Monday, 16 January 2017

Sherlock - The Final Problem



Mary Entry, My Dear Watson

Sherlock 4.3 - The Final Problem
UK Airdate: 15th January 2017 BBC 1


Warning: Some slight spoilerage here.

Oh rats. This is absolutely not the review I wanted to be writing today, in the wake of last night’s season finale of Sherlock. The show has been a bit hit and miss since it first started and there’s usually one clunker per series but... yeah, The Final Problem isn’t good. In fact, I would go as far to say that it’s not only the worst episode of this series... it’s the worst of all four series. Not a good one at all and, ultimately for me, very disappointing.

Okay... so was fully expecting the re-entry of Mary Watson into the plot this week. Perhaps a continuation of her back story thread and how it was, maybe, intertwined with Moriarty and Euros Holmes but... nope. She has a brief cameo where she enters the show via another video clip at the end and I mention this here purely to justify the title of this blog post. I was going to be using this title whether she reappeared or not, you see... I didn’t want to waste it. Alas, my ideas at the continuation of her storyline seem almost blown out of the water... up to a point.

And that point is... I’m now forced to give up on the idea that Molly Hooper was behind everything. The Molly-arty figure, so to speak. Alas, she remains a footnote in the lives of Holmes and Watson and I think that’s a waste of a great character and, indeed, a great actress. In fact, the entire episode seemed a waste of great actors and actresses, to be honest, because if there’s one thing you couldn’t fault here... perhaps the only thing... it’s the quality of the acting from all the usual suspects in this. So Cumberbatch, Freeman, Gatiss etc were all exceptional in this one... they just didn’t do very well as characters, I would say. I know the plot was dealing with things from childhood but I don’t think they had to make all the dialogue that childish. Also... it all seemed a bit too theatrical and cypherish, to me. Which is a shame.

On that subject, though, the one member of the cast who really won out in all this stuff was, in fact, the wonderful Louise Brealey in her one scene here as Molly Hooper. She played it in such a way that you really wanted to know what kind of day she’d been having and why she was responding like she was. It was a brilliant scene and pretty moving and her performance made you wonder why the heck the rest of the characters hadn’t been written as well as that this time around. This scene between her and Sherlock, at least her side of it, seemed to be the only ‘real’ and moving thing happening in the entire show, to be honest.

On the subject of Mary Watson... well there’s room for another series in a few years if they decide to go down that route and it would be a fairly simple matter, I would have thought, to bring her back into the role. Of course, the split between Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman probably makes that highly unlikely now but, I’m certainly not going to rule that one out yet. Especially since I want to know who mailed the P.S. DVD she’d recorded at the end of the episode.

Okay, so there was a lot not to like in this and I really don’t want this to turn into a laundry list of complaints. Especially since I’m still really keen on the series and most of the people I know have now given up entirely on it and haven’t even bothered with Series Four. I still think it’s a good show and, honestly, one really bad episode out of three is not too bad an average, is it?

Okay... so things like the absurd skill at reprogramming people that Sherlock’s sister has really does go into the realms of fantasy. Yeah, I know there are real life precedents for this kind of thing but they really whacked this up to the Nth degree here. On the other hand, Sherlock is pretty much an invincible breed of super science hero and, maybe it’s fitting that his latest nemesis also has super powers of her own, so to speak.

There’s also the question, by way of an example of shoddy ‘run through the wet paint before someone sees you’ writing issues inherent in this week’s installment, of why Sherlock, Mycroft and Watson would feel the need to break into the compound in which Sherlock’s sister, Euros Holmes, is supposedly imprisoned when Mycrioft pretty much outranks the top brass there anyway. If they suspected the lunatics were already running the asylum then they should surely be better prepared for what was waiting for them. If they weren’t then... why the heck would they break in there in the first place? They could just walk in with authority over everyone there. So, yeah, taking the time to prove that security is lax seems a bit of a stretch of an excuse to show those kinds of action scenes here, methinks.

But all this, however, is distracting me away from one of the main reasons why I had a hard time with the episode.

It was dull.

Simple as that. I kept checking my watch to see how long we had to go because it was dragging. There were no interesting plot twists or developments and even the media induced enhancements were few and far between and certainly didn’t add much when you noticed them. About the only little clever thing I did like was the shot of the ashes from Musgrove Hall continuing to rain down on Mycroft in Sherlock’s study at the aftermath of his story... quite liked that nice little touch but there just wasn’t enough of this kind of inventiveness, I felt, in this episode. I got quite bored by the end of this one.

So there you have it. The Final Problem was not much of a series finale and, from what I understand, I’m not alone in that conclusion. I was actually going to part with some cash in a week or two to buy the complete series blu ray coming out next week but, after seeing this clumsy nightmare of an episode, I’m not sure I’d want to after the disappointment of that climax. I’m still hoping that we’ll get another series in a few years’ time (preferably with lots of Mary and Molly in it) but for now... well... I’m kinda glad they’re all taking a break from it, to be honest.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Chaos



Auntie Kay-os

Chaos
by Patricia Cornwell
Harper Collins 2016
ISBN: 978-0-00-815062-7


And here we go again with the first of my two regular Christmas literary rituals coming into play. Namely, the new Kay Scarpetta book by the amazing Patricia Cornwell. I suspect this one will be a fairly short review because there’s only so much you can say about a novel that’s so well written and perfect, easily confirming Cornwell as the top writer in her field... but I’ll have a go.

Unlike a lot of the Scarpetta books, Chaos starts off with an extraordinarily long lead in before the first dead body of the story actually arrives. This is, of course, to set up characters and to place them in the path of Cornwell’s two lead characters, Scarpetta and her FBI husband Benton Wesley, before pulling all the threads of her plot together. It also allows herself to set up the occasional red herring which is fine with me because, in all fairness, it actually worked with me this time and when a character does something with a bottle of water in the early stages of the book, I fell victim quite convincingly to her sleight of hand and was distracted in totally the wrong direction. I’m always really pleased when Cornwell (or anyone, these days) is able to surprise me when it comes to not telegraphing the ending of the story from early on.

And, of course, it goes almost without saying that Cornwell is so good at portraying her varied characters, such as Marino, her niece Lucy and Lucy’s lover Janet (who’s not in it very much), that although the lead in to the action is a fairly long one this time... I didn’t mind it a bit. She takes her time to explain things to the reader, embellishing the background in which her characters work with layers of reality so that, I really don’t feel slowed down at all. This is all great stuff and in the hands of a master writer like her, it just all works really well.

Another reason why this approach in no way messes with her writing style, which is in the first person from Scarpetta’s point of view (as the majority of them have been) is that this one is a good example of a story where Cornwell manages to do some interesting things with the passage of time. The whole story is set over the course of about a day, tops, with just a chapter or so at the end set a couple of days later and this way of structuring the story seems to be something the writer has been doing a lot of over the past few years. It’s also something she seems to excel at more than most who try the same tactic and she still seems to be able to both compress and expand time on a whim... which is really helpful in the somewhat manipulative art of fiction writing, for sure. Most of the book is set at the crime scene of the first body or the surrounding area and various characters make appearances at regular intervals to inform Scarpetta of certain plot developments as she works a crime scene and races against time to get the body properly attended to before she can have it transported to her autopsy rooms.

As the story unfolds, we are made privy to various cutting edge ideas and theories that someone in the author’s position has access to know about and it can sometimes be a quite sobering experience to read about terrifying inventions which could threaten the life of everyone if somebody got it into their head to build and use this stuff in a certain way because, well, you just know that if someone with Cornwell’s connections is writing about this stuff, then it’s probably a distinct possibility that it could happen (if it hasn’t already).

Regular fans of the series will be happy to know that certain long running antagonists and ghosts pop up from the past in this one, just as they have been for a couple of novels now, and that the way in which they pop up is sometimes surprising. The very last chapter, for example, when everything is supposedly said and done, reveals some surprising information about a fairly recently acquired character that I totally didn’t see coming and only had a hint of a couple of chapters before. So there’s some good stuff here and one has to wonder just how much forward planning the usually meticulous Cornwell is doing with her characters because 15 years or so from now, I reckon she’s left herself another thread she can pull on if she wants to.

And I’m really not going to say anymore about Chaos for fear of spoilers. I said it would be one of my shorter reviews and it certainly is. There’s not much else to say. Once again, Patricia Cornwell demonstrates why she is the queen of modern crime fiction, turning out a book that is taut, slow but evenly and suspensefully paced and... as I kind of expect from her these days... nothing short of a minor masterpiece. If you’re already a fan of Cornwell and have read the series from the get go, this is another ‘must read’ as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t say it’s a jumping on point for new readers but, if you are a new reader, go back to her early works and start from there because, frankly, her character progression is amazing. What more can one say? Well done again to a truly great writer... don’t miss out on the Scarpetta books. They are essential reading.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Passengers



Woken Blossoms

Passengers
2016 USA Directed by Morten Tyldum
UK cinema release print.


Warning: Yeah... there are a few spoilers in this one.

I kinda half avoided Passengers over the recent Christmas holidays because of the response I saw it getting on Twitter. However, when I returned to work, somebody told me it was actually very good (and that Jennifer Lawrence wears a bikini a lot) so I thought I’d better go and take a look for myself and see what kind of sci-fi movie this is and... well, it’s problematic.

There’s a kind of moral judgement to be made about a certain character in this movie, right from the early set up of the film, and although the director (who also directed the adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters, reviewed here) found this aspect to be what made the story interesting, from what I read, this doesn’t make the character all that palatable the way he’s been played here by Chris Pratt. Possibly my own disappointment in Chris Pratt gleefully owning up to being someone who hunts animals may be some baggage I’m bringing to the film myself though... so I have to be careful about my gut reaction on this one.

It’s funny. If I’d have seen this as a kid in the 1970s, where it might have stood side by side with such classics as Silent Running (reviewed here) I would probably have had no problem at all with this film. As it is and with the current climate of madness to be found on various social media outlets, the central moral question is something which doesn’t sit comfortably with me... particularly the way it’s presented here.

So, okay... the plot is a ship carrying hundreds of passengers across the galaxy in suspended animation for well over a hundred years to start life in their new home malfunctions and one of the passengers, played by Chris Pratt, is woken up 90 years too early... with no hope of getting back to sleep again. After a year with just the robot bartender played by Michael Sheen to keep him company, he finds himself hopelessly on the verge of committing suicide because he is so lonely... and the director, and Pratt, play this for all it’s worth. And the reason the set up is so long... maybe half an hour... is because the story can only move forward if you can sympathise with Pratt’s character and the distraught state he’s in. However, instead of blowing himself out into space without a suit, he falls in love with the profile of another passenger, Aurora, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and wakes her up to keep him company... thus ruining her chances of ever seeing her destination. He doesn’t tell her he woke her... only that her pod malfunctioned like his.

And so the two fall madly in love and, in a whirlwind of interstellar cliché, Pratt is just about to ask her to marry him (being as they’re the only two souls around) when the android mistakenly reveals that Pratt ruined her future by waking her up. She then totally freaks, understandably, and cuts off all communication with Pratt. And here’s where the real problem with the movie kicks in. She could have either forgiven him after a few days of anger or, never forgave him. At least that’s the way I see it. There’s no slow burn that can fix this kind of dilemma that Pratt has been a bit of an eel, suicidal or not, and I think if she is going to go off and refuse contact for as many months as she seems to in the movie, then there’s no going back for them.

However, when one of the ship’s crew, played by Laurence Fishburne, is also woke by his malfunctioning pod, the three are forced to work together to save the ship to stop it, and its crew of hundreds of passengers in suspended animation, from blowing up. However, Fishburne’s character is not so lucky as Pratt’s and it turns out the machine didn’t wake him properly. He’s got maybe a day or two to live due to not coming out of hypersleep properly and then, for the final half an hour or so of the film, Pratt and Lawrence have to put their differences aside and work together. And this is where, for me, the film falls down flat in that Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora soon forgives and rekindles her love for Pratt as they collaborate against their mutual peril. And it seems to me that this wouldn’t be something that could happen if she had already severed contact for as long as she did. There’s also the problem that giving her love and then making a certain decision she does about something near the end of the film, not going to say what, almost validates and empowers Pratt’s morally grey decision.

And this was a real movie killer for me, it has to be said.

Mostly everything else is pretty good about it... although the script is extremely cliché ridden and there are absolutely no surprises all the way through. The special effects and shot set ups are fine and all the lead actors, including Pratt, are giving some great performances. I’ve not seen Jennifer Lawrence in anything else other than Winter’s Bone (reviewed here) and her three X-Men movies (to date, reviewed here, here and here) but I’m really loving what she’s doing here and suspect that she could reach ‘movie star’ levels pretty soon, if she manages to avoid the career pitfalls of being a successful woman in the Hollywood community. Really think she’s got something going for her in terms of being a box office draw.

Ultimately, Passengers isn’t something I could probably see again but I don’t think it’s a bad sci-fi film and, although it’s morally ambiguous (if you do happen to see Pratt’s character’s actions in shades of grey) I don’t think that die hard fans of the genre will have too many problems with this movie. I think it could have been a lot smarter and a lot less clichéd but I don’t think appealing to anything but the lowest common denominator IQs was probably a factor in the production of the movie. I was a little frustrated because it felt a lot like there was a better movie trying to get out of what is, essentially, just another old 1950s sci-fi short story plot but, I’m guessing I’m really not the kind of science fiction fan that this movie is aimed at. It’s certainly not a terrible film though and although it’s no Silent Running, it’s certainly no Plan 9 From Outer Space either so... yeah, if you’re in the right mood you may want to give this one a look.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Sherlock - The Lying Detective



Mary-tricious

Sherlock 4.2 - The Lying Detective
UK Airdate: 8th January 2017 BBC 1


Warning: Spoilers from the outset.

And here we go again. This is an almost text book episode of what Sherlock is all about and what it’s always been about since the very first episode aired... It’s all about being very clever in its use of the media to both play with the way the content and information is delivered to good dramatic and comic effect while still using the flexibility of this rug-pull of a malleable breaking of the fourth wall, on a purely narrative level, to be able to wriggle out of anything. For that reason, I really loved it. However, another thing that has remained consistent throughout the majority of the series is the fact that on the level of the actual content delivered... and I mean the writing and its inability to use those same techniques to sustain trust or be anything less than obvious, for the most part... it lives up to its normal standard and is also, unfortunately,  fully represented in the chemical make up of this weeks episode.

In other words, it was an entertaining romp but, unfortunately, not clever enough by half.

Now then... this didn’t stop me enjoying this one, I have to say, and I found it to be a much stronger episode than the previous one but... it felt like a stop gap so Holmes can get Watson on board again after the ‘possible’ death of his wife in the previous episode. And, yes, I’m still not buying into that whole ‘Mary is dead’ idea just yet... if I’m going to make myself look stupid on that front then I can at least drown properly without flapping my arms this way and that in terms of my suspicions of where the last episode might end up.

So, despite the excellent performances of all the usual suspects in this one... Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss... not to mention the always brilliant Toby Jones playing a really unlikeable serial killer who, alas, because the writing telegraphed his character too much, wasn’t surprising anyone (but, as usual for Jones, he did it so well)... my attentions were fixated on just two things throughout this episode. One of them was the whole Mary Watson thing and I’ll get on with my one last chance at second guessing that in a minute. The other thing was... alas... thrown in my face, so to speak... and that also had its roots in the previous episode.

In last weeks episode, Dr. Watson had a dalliance, albeit in text form, with another woman. This week... after I was sure that Holmes wasn’t actually talking to a dead woman... another character in the story had some chips by the River Thames with Holmes and, at that point, my thoughts marinated  to... wasn’t that the lady on the bus from last week but with different coloured hair? And then I told myself I was probably wrong and moved on until another scene with Watson and his therapist and, looking at her I thought... no, wait! Isn’t that the woman from the bus from last week? And then I moved on again because... well I kinda stopped playing that game and I assumed my gut instinct was wrong. Well, it turns out I was completely right in that all three women were, in fact, the same person... the only thing I didn’t quite see coming was her relationship with one of the main characters but.... yeah... you know... my gut was right.

And so I’ll come to Mary. I’m still not convinced her death wasn’t staged... possibly by Mary (and Molly... and I’m still not giving up on my Molly-arty theory either, for now) and the reason I’m still clinging onto this sad conviction that she might still be alive (at least until the conclusion of next week’s episode, at any rate) is because Moffat seems keen to make it seem almost impossible to the viewers at home that she could be anything but dead. So we have the ghost of Mary Watson talking to John Watson and giving him advice... or do we? Well, it was stated and is quite obvious that the ghost of Mary Watson is just a projection created by John Watson to deal with her death and... well... that psychological manifestation doesn’t have to mean that she’s actually really dead, does it? As long as John believes that she’s dead then he can have whatever ghost he likes playing around inside his brain. And that’s where I am at the moment and part of me sincerely hopes I’m wrong in my suspicions because, frankly, it would be nice if Moffat and Gatiss were able to run my mind around in little circles because I hate being right about a lot of the stuff I see on TV and at the movies... kinda numbs the emotions, so to speak. Time will tell... seven more days of that man made temporal construction known as a week should reveal the end game on this one... we shall see.

Other than all that though... great little episode despite the obviousness but with the quality... and this is a gift that Moffat seems to have... to still inject great dollops of humour into the programme even when the two main protagonists of the series are in their darkest places. Some of the dialogue, as always, was pretty wonderful... it’s just the broader strokes on these things which sometimes screw these up a little, methinks. So... wonderful performances, cool and innovative use of the medium to show things in the usual, marvellous, Sherlock manner and, as always, a really nice score by David Arnold and Michael Price which comes out on CD on 27th January (if you were wondering... pre-order it specifically from Silva Screen before the release date here now and you should get the special limited bonus disc of the score to The Abominable Bride thrown in too, if you get your skates on).

Despite some obvious moments, not a bad bit of viewing for a Sunday evening. British television has still got it, I reckon, and Sherlock is very much one of our finest exports. Looking forward to the next one now... just to see if any of my wild theories are right.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Now On The Big Screen



Whoniversal Pictures

Now On The Big Screen: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Doctor Who At The Movies
by Charles Norton Telos Publishing
ISBN: 978-1845839307


“Now you can see them in colour on the big screen...
closer than ever before. So close, you can feel their fire...”


Thus stated the original theatrical trailer to the 1965 movie Dr. Who And The Daleks, which is one of the many items under discussion in this, relatively, new book (2013/15) by Charles Norton. Which is what I found myself reading on Christmas Day this year since, for technical reasons, the new Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs novels had not yet found their way to me under their traditional, seasonal wraps. Don’t worry, said tomes were gifted to me a few days later once family members had been met and greeted so, if you’re waiting for my usual, annual review of the latest works by these two ladies... they will be coming soon (as soon as I get to finish them).

Instead, this somewhat marvellous tome given to me on Christmas morning gets to be my first book review of 2017 and, I have to say, it’s certainly an interesting project (as is often the way with unauthorised and, therefore, often more ‘honest’ editions). Writer Charles Norton not only attempts to document the origins, production and aftermath of the original and, to date, ‘only’ Doctor Who movies to be released in cinemas at the height of Dalekmania in the UK - the 1965 movie Dr. Who And The Daleks and the 1966 film Dalek Invasion Of Earth 2150AD (both starring Peter Cushing as scientist Dr. Who and Roberta Tovey as his grand daughter) - but he also, for the majority of the book, goes on to lift the curtain on all the various planned and aborted Doctor Who movies which have never made it to the screen in the intervening years. Some of these proposed projects came from names associated somewhat with the television history of the show itself and others, from less familiar quarters. And it’s a very interesting read for anyone who loves the colourfully depicted, distorted movie versions of the characters as played by Cushing and co as much as they do the television show.

The first two sections deal with the original motion pictures in quite some detail and even include, like I’ve seen done before in other important works that deal with British films of that era, some of the considerations of the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors, as the acronym more honestly stood for in those days) from the script submissions, before even a shot of frame was filmed. This is interesting in itself since we have an insight into some scenes which were scrapped and also some sequences which were shot and then later cut or modified, like the close-up shots of the Kaled inside one of the Daleks which the BBFC thought too disturbing to include in a family/children’s film (such as it was perceived back then). It also includes, as do all of the chapters dealing with other, more ill-fated productions, comments about the experience from various cast and crew culled from a number of credited sources over the years.

It’s good stuff and, as far as I can tell, the most definitive story 'behind the scenes' of the two Peter Cushing movies in print and, if it had just been these two movies that the book was solely about, then it would have still been a great read. As interesting though, are the next chapters which probably make up around three quarters of the book, which detail the likes of various projects by people who were trying to get another movie incarnation of the good Doctor to the screen... including a third continuation of these original two movies.

So we have a section, for example, devoted to Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, which was the long gestating brain child of the two writers who were also starring in the television series at the time the project was first mooted... Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and the late Ian Marter (who played the Doctor’s fourth assistant Harry Sullivan, for a while, as a preliminary to going on to write various novelisations of the series for Target books, before dying tragically young). There are some nice reminiscences to be found here including the time when Tom Baker and Ian Marter went to the Dominion in London in 1977/8 to take a look at that new Star Wars movie which had just come out... only to leave the cinema dejected when they realised the budgetary goal posts for any big screen science fiction projects had just been dramatically changed and that they really had no hope in hell of getting something like that financed.

Along with a whole host of projects in the book, two of which would have featured one of my favourite ladies, Caroline Munro, in their genetic make-up, the tome also covers Douglas Adams’ proposed film project, Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen. Now Douglas Adams had a history of writing some episodes of the show (including the infamous ‘lost’, half filmed due to TV strikes, Tom Baker story Shada) but he is perhaps more famous, world wide, as the man who created and wrote the legendary Radio Show, series of novels, TV show, theatre production, movie and audio recordings that constitute The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Now, as soon as I’d read the title of his proposed Doctor Who movie I think I’d figured out what eventually became of it and, sure enough, this book confirms that it did end up being the basis of the third of the five Hitchhiker novels... Life, The Universe and Everything.

Now On The Big Screen does, in places, get a little dry and perhaps just a little tedious in some chapters but it’s all done in the name of enlightenment and you can’t knock author Norton’s quite thorough approach to digging up all he can about the material in this volume. Indeed, a synopsis of the script usually running between five and eight pages long is provided for pretty much all of the detailed movie projects in this book, which is absolutely invaluable. What it did, however, make me realise is that, as much as I’d love to see another new Doctor Who movie at some point in the future (and, call it a hunch, but I suspect we’re all a lot closer to that prospect than we are possibly aware of until the marketing machine gets into high gear) is that I’m really thankful, in some ways, that none of the stories summarised here never made it anywhere near the big screen because, honestly, they do mostly sound quite awful (although there’s surely still time for Caroline Munro to be offered a big part in the regular TV show, perhaps?).

After the main book has concluded, with a little on the background politics of the BBC that ushered in the new Russell T. Davies era of The Doctor’s adventures in televisionland, we also get another invaluable, much smaller section telling a little bit about the various, unauthorised, straight to home video spin offs featuring some of the actors, actresses and characters from the series... some of which are written by people who work on the show these days, such as Mark Gatiss. So this is a good little guide for further, non-Doctor adventures with characters like Sergeant Benton, Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart, Sarah Jane Smith, Liz Shaw and even the likes of Professor Travers and Victoria Waterfield, it would seem.

All in all, the information contained in this tome is of great interest to fans of Doctor Who and I’m really glad to have Now On The Big Screen on my book shelves (such as they are... might be the floor at this point). Charles Norton has done a great service to fandom when pulling this research all together here and its an absolutely invaluable addition to any Whovian’s library. So glad to have this one.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Annual Cryptic Movie Quiz Answers and Winners


Annual Cryptic Movie
Quiz Answers and Winners


Hi there.

A big congratulations to the joint
winners of my 2016 Cryptic Movie Quiz...

Andy Lawrence

and

Sarah Ward...

Andy (twitter handle https://twitter.com/AndyLawrence5) is the man behind the always brilliant Euro Not Trash site at https://eurodrama.wordpress.com/ and Sarah (twitter handle https://twitter.com/sarahrward1) is the famous writer who has her Crimepieces site at https://crimepieces.com/

Well done to them and a huge thank you to everyone who sent in their answers to the latest quiz. I hope you all enjoyed playing (which is kinda the point).

And so... on to the answers.

1. A less egotistical, traditionally English adopted drink behaving much more like a flaming headed Johnny!
Someone less egotistical may be considered modest. A drink traditionally associated with the English could be tea. So... Modest Tea. A flaming headed Johnny could have been Johnny Storm, the Human Torch but in this case it was Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider.
So... Modesty Blaise.

2. Placed upon an Apple branded, bleeting sheep.
Placed upon is On. A sheep makes a ba ba sound. An apple branded product usually has an ‘i’ in front of it like iPod or iPad.
So... Onibaba.

3. Unusual, backwards fish on a rocky pinnacle.
Okay... Unusual could mean strange. A fish could be a cod. Backwards it would be doc. A rocky pinnacle is known as a tor.
So... Doctor Strange.

4. Drifting, frozen plasma is a tramp.
Drifting and frozen indicates snow. Plasma is sometimes another term for blood. As the song goes, the lady is a tramp.
So... Lady Snowblood.

5. Whether it’s this Linda or that Linda, it should make an interesting activity.
Which Linda is it? Or should that be Witch Linda? Perhaps it’s Linda Blair. An interesting activity could be a project.
So... The Blair Witch Project.

6. A couple of bonfire night dummies from a city in France.
A traditional bonfire dummy is Guy as in Guy Fawkes. A city in France could be Nice.
So... The Nice Guys.

7. None scrambled at the demonstration of the fourteenth letter of the alphabet.
Okay, so the fourteenth letter of the alphabet is ‘n’. A demonstration could be a demo.
So, demon. None unscrambled is neon. So... The Neon Demon.

8. A loose Emergency Room.
Loose = slack. A common abbreviation for Emergency Room is ER.
So... Slacker.

9. An unhappy and confused oak is speaking in poetry. A spiritual entity is proceeding positively but in reverse.
A confused oak? Well de-confuse it by rearranging it to ako. If it’s unhappy it’s sad. So Sadako. A spiritual entity could be a Ka. A positive exclamation is okay. Reverse it and you get kayo. That gives Kayako.
So... Sadako VS Kayako.

10. Rearrange the angle slightly and reshuffle the end of the earth.
Angle rearranged could be angel. The end of earth is an h. Rearrange it to the front of the word and you get heart.
So... Angel Heart.

11. That young lady stuck between Sunday and Tuesday.
Easy one here... The Girl From Monday.

12. Diminutively speaking James, it’s a greeting.
A greeting could be “Yo.” A diminutive form of James could be Jimbo.
So... Yojimbo.

13. Get in a couple of big fights just above the thigh. You can put this example of typographic spacing in a container if you are family. 
A couple of big fights could be battles. Above your thigh is your hip. So battleship. A container could be a pot. A typographic measurement could be an em. Someone in your family is kin.
So... Battleship Potemkin.

14. See the insect and then send a letter to one.
An insect is a bug. If you see a bug that could be bugsee. Send a letter could be to mail a letter. One is one. Mail one.
So... Bugsy Malone.

15. To derive, by reasoning, in the negative.
To derive by reasoning is to infer. A negative is no.
So... Inferno.

16. A single stalk of wheat gets very angry while wearing a couple of French hats.
Get angry and you get wild. A single stalk of wheat is a straw. A french hat could be a beret.
So... Wild Strawberries.

17. Great French fiction writer finds himself in a muddle.
A great French writer for me was Jules Verne.
So unscramble his last name to get... Nerve.

18. Unlock to gain access on the Monday and the man is royalty.
Mon is short for Monday. If you unlock something yo need a key... so monkey. A royal man could be a king.
So... The Monkey King.

Thanks again all for playing. Hopefully I’ll get the time to do another one next year.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Sherlock 4.1 - The Six Thatchers



Catching Mary Hell

Sherlock 4.1 - The Six Thatchers
UK Airdate: 1st January 2017 BBC 1


Warning: A big spoiler for this episode and a possible speculative spoiler for the third episode being broadcast in a couple of weeks. All this will be clearly marked in the text.

Okay, so we’re finally on what is being touted as the possible last series of the BBC programme Sherlock. I’ve been kind of a fan since the first episode although my level of enjoyment has been really hit and miss, to be honest. Usually, the easier I see the solution to the episode, the less I’m likely to enjoy it... although there have been some fairly interesting stylistic choices, coupled with some good dialogue writing, throughout the programme's run.

The latest episode is now, as I’m being continually reminded on Twitter and elsewhere by an audience who seem to be fast running out of patience with the last series, more of a soap opera rather than stand alone cases but, honestly, that’s part of the appeal for me. I always tend to value character development and progression above the content of a story so this show is absolutely doing something right for me... otherwise I would have stopped watching sometime in the first series, I suspect.

This episode is all about the perceptions of events, if I’m right about certain things...

For instance, we have John Watson being lured by a honey trap and there’s a certain feeling that the progression of what may or may not have happened between him and another, as yet unknown, character is somehow involved in a bigger end game than it first appears. In fact, the episode starts off with Sherlock Holmes being called to get rid of Moriarty and being asked what he will do about the very real ‘threat from beyond the grave’ of his regular nemesis. When he says that Moriarty is dead, I think he is right to a point but I suspect there’s a bigger end game which is ‘afoot’ here.

The episode was a rich in entertainment, if not quite as enthralling as I’d hoped, hotchpotch of absolutely top rate performances of all the usual suspects - Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington (as Mary Watson, my favourite one in the show), Rupert Graves, Una Stubbs and Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper, who I’ll mention speculatively in my possible spoiler section. And, of course, we have Mark Gatiss playing Mycroft wonderfully and he also wrote this episode, with his usual display of good taste and furious pacing.

Okay, so all the red text below contains the big spoiler for the episode and also contains possible spoilers for the conclusion of the series...

When, a few weeks ago, Martin Freeman announces that he and Amanda Abbington had called off their long standing relationship I was somewhat disappointed (purely, I guess, because their on screen relationship is easily mistaken for their off screen one to casual viewers like myself and they make such a nice couple). It also signalled to me that there was a strong possibility that the Mary Watson character would be written out at some point in the near future and, as it happens, that’s what seems to have happened in last night’s episode. She knocks Sherlock aside and takes a bullet in the heart that was meant for him. And I was upset about this because a) I thought they’d wait until the final episode of the series to do this and b) I really love the character so much. However, after waking in the middle of the night where my brain must have been clearly occupied with this problem, I’m now beginning to think I was right... they might be waiting until the final episode to kill her off, or maybe not kill her off at all.

That is to say, and it may be very wrong and wishful thinking to say this, that I think there’s a strong possibility that Mary’s death could have been staged to help convince the real enemy that Holmes and Watson are no longer working together and then, in some way, get the villain of the piece to overplay their hand. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a character in the show has had their death faked. I might be wrong but... I don’t think we’re quite done with Mary Watson yet, to be honest.

I know it’s a wild theory and I kinda hope I’m wrong about it so my respect for Moffat and Gatiss goes up but... I think that the death was faked for reasons pertaining to a ‘long game’ Holmes is playing against Moriarty. And when I say Moriarty, I mean the person who created Moriarty in the first place. Now Molly was one of many at the big showdown and saw Mary Watson die. She’s even helping Watson with their daughter. However... isn’t she the first person we saw in Series One with Moriarty? Is she, and this sounds a little ludicrous as I type it but it’s just my fan theory so give me the benefit... but is there a chance the murder of Mary was staged specifically for her to witness and she could be, in fact, Holmes nemesis. After all, Moriarty’s ‘ghost in the machine’ seems to realise Holmes is still alive and Molly was the one who helped Holmes fake his own death at the end of Series Two. So maybe she is the mind behind the whole game, as it were? I don’t know and I’m probably going to be proven wrong about all this but at least I’m writing it here in this blog so, if it is just wild fiction on my part, you can all see me getting it wrong in public. Hopefully, if I am wrong, you won’t stop reading my reviews because of it. ;-)


End of spoilers...

And so that’s that for the latest Sherlock. We shall see where we are after next week’s episode, which I expect may be a ‘mostly’ stand alone story. I’m looking forward to it because it’s got Toby Jones in it and I think he’s a terrific actor. And I’ll try and get the review of that one up either on the Monday or, more likely, the Tuesday after it airs. So hope to see you here again in a week or so.

And for anyone playing this year’s cryptic movie quiz... I hope to get the results up either tomorrow or the day after. Hope you enjoyed playing.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Top 20 Movies of 2016



Top 20 Movies of 2016

Okay... so here we go with the annual, scary to put together list of the best movies of the year. Despite popular opinion, I don’t think it’s been a bad year for movies and my cinema visits seemed a little more frequent than usual as a result. Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the year is the fact that we had both a new Star Trek and a new Star Wars movie and neither of them were good enough to make it into my list. And nobody is more upset about that than me, I reckon. Still, without further ado, here’s my list for this year in reverse order. Hope you like...

20. Mermaid (aka Mei Ren Yu) 3D
Directed by Stephen Chow, this large budget comedy telling a charmingly small moral fable is more hit than miss and it’s one of the more unusual movies to be released at British cinemas this year. My full review can be found here...

19. Green Room
This taut, gritty and harrowing drama about a bunch of musicians trapped in a nightclub is made even more poignant in light of the death of one of its leading actors, Anton Yelchin (who played Pavel Chekhov in the last three Star Trek movies). Another long term Star Trek stalwart, Patrick Stewart, appears here in a role in which he manages to be absolutely downright villanous. Not a movie I could sit through again but that’s no reason not to proclaim it one of the best of 2016. My review is here.

18. The Nice Guys
Funky, 1970s set action thriller/comedy written and directed by one of the great screenplay writers in Hollywood, Shane Black. The music by John Ottman and David Buckley alone is worth looking at this one for. My review here.

17. Doctor Strange
The second best of the many superhero movies released this year sees Benedict Cumberbatch breath life into the quirky, psychedelic 1960s Marvel character that the movie is based on. He’s well supported by the always watchable Tilda Swinton and the always listenable Michael Giacchino. My review can be found here...

16. Train To Busan
In a year perhaps less likely than some, we have three first class zombie movies coming along at once. The first of my picks in this category which make it into my list is the darling of the FrightFest, Train To Busan... which is about as good a ‘zombies on a train’ movie as you’re likely to see. My review can be unearthed here.

15. Women Who Kill
This witty and acerbic comedy with an edge is all about two ex-lovers who put out a radio show about their favourite female serial killers and the depths their obsession with these kinds of people takes one of them. I really hope that this gets some kind of Blu Ray or DVD release over here because I think more people should know about this one than they do. My review can be found here...

14. Respectable - The Mary Millington Story
Simon Sheridan’s documentary about the life and tragic death of Britains most famous porn star was more or less, apart from the odd one off showing, a straight to DVD movie over here. This is a shame because it well deserved a proper cinema release, as far as I’m concerned. My review of this one is here.

13. Sadako VS Kayako
This is what happens when a company jokes about making a movie combining the main monsters from their Ring and The Grudge franchises and the Japanese public buy into this bizarre idea so much that it’s decided to make the movie for real, after all. This is a cheesy but very fun take on the two franchises all rolled up into one outrageous confection. I just hope it can get some distribution either here or in the US sometime soon. My review here.

12. Paterson
What can you say about Jim Jarmusch? Still very much an independent spirit and still churning out non-commercial films which he somehow manages to get financed. One of the great artists of American cinema and this is another movie that demonstrates why. My review of this one can be found here.

11. The Conjuring 2 - The Enfield Case
Although this is not the masterpiece that the original The Conjuring was, this movie still has a certain charm to it... not least in the personalities of the two, true life protagonists and the actors who bring them to life. This one is set not too far from where I live so I was really chomping at the bit to see this (especially since the first movie is so wonderful). This one manages to link the famous tale of the Enfield poltergeist to the events surrounding The Amityville Horror... which I don’t believe for a second but it’s a nice little movie. My review is here...

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane
This claustrophobic tale of a serial killer and two potential victims under lock down dovetails into the same cinematic universe as the original Cloverfield... both as the thing the writer uses to set up the scenario of the main movie with and then, big time, for the last quarter of an hour or so of the story. This one is all about the performances and the way the director shoots the small environment in which the majority of the tale takes place. My review is right here...

9. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Wasn’t expecting this potentially one joke wonder of a novel (which I’ve not read) to be the basis of such a strong movie but this one is a real joy to watch. It’s smart and it has a lot of fun with the parallel world created by the cast and crew. Well worth a look and the second of this year’s three unexpected zombie entries on the list. My review here.

8. Zoology (ala Zoologiya)
It’s to be seen as to whether this Russian/French/German production about a woman who grows a tail and loses her inhibitions art the same time will get a proper release in English speaking countries but, if it does come out next year and you get the opportunity to see it... just go. My review is here...

7. Spotlight
Again, true this story about the investigative efforts of a small team of journalists is probably not something I could watch that often... but it is a quality production to rival some of the greats of that genre such as All The President’s Men. It would be tempting to overplay the subject matter and make it a much more syrupy production than is necessary but, luckily, the writer and director steer clear of going down that route. My review is here.

6. Deadpool
Probably the most popular superhero movie made in a long time, Deadpool, like the comic it’s based on, breaks the fourth wall continuously and still manages to let the audience feel comfortable with it dropping itself into the main cinematic X-Men timelines (which, to be fair, are so screwed up and out of any serious continuity with each other that it hardly matters at this point). My review of this gem of a masked vigilante movie can be found here.

5. I, Daniel Blake
This completely depressing and genuinely moving film is, if anything, a little more glossy and glam in its portrayal of the kinds of poverty and injustice I have seen going on in this country. That being said, this one really drives all its points home and, if the ending is just a little bit of a cliché, you can only forgive it that indulgence in the light of the kind of everyday tragedies it’s talking about. My review of this one is here.

4. The VVitch
This movie had the most bizarre and abusive audience reaction I’ve ever seen... with people laughing and shouting back at the screen or leaving in droves throughout. And my understanding is that this audience interaction with the film was far from an isolated incident. Either way, I kinda loved the slow burn and the very rewarding ending to the movie and I think this one will get the odd revisit by me over the years to come. Here’s my review.

3. Hail, Caesar!
I don’t know why this one seemed to fail with audiences, from what I can gather, but I think this is one of The Coen Brother’s greatest movies... right up there with The Big Lebowski and The Man Who Wasn’t There. It’s absolutely wonderful for people who are into the history of American cinema and... well if you’re reading this blog then that must include you, right? My review of this gem is here.

2. Prevenge
Alice Lowe wrote, starred in and directed this black comedy about a woman driven to serial murder on the instructions of her unborn child while she was, herself, pregnant. Which is surely no mean feat. It’s a bit of a masterpiece and I really hope this gets a proper cinema and home video release (so I can repeat watch the thing) sometime very soon. My review is here.

1. The Girl With All The Gifts
And so, against all the odds, a low budget zombie movie takes my top spot of the films of the year. This isn’t just any zombie movie, however. It’s British made and it manages to be genuinely suspenseful for what is, essentially, a post-apocalyptic road movie. It also manages to have an unexpected story arc to fulfil before the movie is done with and it honestly feels like what would have happened if somebody had asked the late British science fiction writer John Wyndham to have a crack at writing a zombie novel. There’s a little more to this evocative concoction than you may, at first, suspect or realise. My review of this gift of a movie is here.

And that’s me done with this for another year. In a couple of weeks, when I’ve finished evaluating the contenders, I’ll post my favourite movie score releases of the year. Some of these may overlap with this list and... well... I suspect some of them really won’t. So maybe come back and have a read of that at some point. In the meantime, it’s still not quite too late to enter my annual, cryptic movie quiz (just click here) and there’ll be some more reviews coming soon.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Legend of Tarzan



Jungle Gym

The Legend of Tarzan
UK/Canada/USA 2016
Directed by David Yates
Warner Bros Blu Ray Zone B


Due to a coincidental turn of events, both the leading ladies in my life received a copy of The Legend of Tarzan as part of their Christmas haul this year. Firstly, I remembered my sexy lady friend had expressed an interest in seeing the movie at the time of its release but didn’t get an opportunity to see it... so I picked a copy up for her. Then, by a strange twist of fate, a few weeks later my mother also expressed an interest in seeing it... so she got one too (what is it with Tarzan and the ladies?).

Now, I wasn’t too keen on seeing this one myself. I had managed to, almost by accident, avoid it when it was released into cinemas earlier in the year and I didn’t think that I would have to bother to catch up to it. Alas, it was the first movie my mother wanted to watch on Boxing Day this year so, alas, I had to sit through it after all. Which ultimately, it turns out, was not actually a bad thing.

I’m not the biggest fan of Tarzan, it has to be said. Sure I used to watch the Ron Ely, Lex Barker, Jock Mahony and Gordon Scott versions of the character when I was a young ‘un. My favourite of all of them in my early years was, of course, the Johnny Weissmuller series of movies... there’s no topping those ones. I never got to see Buster Crabbe play the role but, you know, that one’s in the ‘to watch’ pile for sometime in the future. Edgar Rice Burroughs was never about Tarzan for me, though... he was all about John Carter of Mars, as far as I was concerned. The Tarzan stories were just a curiosity... although, like a lot of kids my age, I had the Mego action figure with the curious skin coloured costume made to look like skin slipped over the already skin coloured action figure plastic... never could figure that out.

So, yeah, I wasn’t exactly fussed about seeing this but I quite like Alexander Skarsgård as an actor... maybe not as much as his father but, heck, he’s a pretty good performer in my book and the agenda for this movie, it has to be said, seems to be one of getting a load of great performers together to get it all to work. So, supporting Skarsgård we have Margot Robbie, the always brilliant Samuel L. Jackson (who seems a bit of an anachronism in terms of his status in the time in which this movie is set... but I’m no expert so I might be wrong on that) and the often outstanding Christoph Waltz as the villain of the piece.

Now one of the things I was most afraid of when sitting down to watch the movie is that it would be yet another interminable ‘origins of the Lord of the Jungle’ movie but, as it happens, the writers wisely jettison the lengthy build up to the creation of Tarzan and go for a more interesting plot line while still, as it happens, trying to have their cake and eat it in terms of the origins department. That is to say, the film is set many years after Tarzan was ‘himself’ and he is now firmly enshrined in his Lord Greystoke personality... until a combination of the villain orchestrating his return to the jungle combined with Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘good guy on a mission to free the slaves’ character pushing from the other side of the equation forces Tarzan to return to his roots. Needless to say, things go pear shaped quickly and we have a jungle romp where the villain is trying to manipulate Tarzan towards his death for personal gain while taking Jane as a hostage.

Now, the origin of Tarzan is still included in the film but the writers have it as a slowly developing series of flashbacks inserted into the main narrative at regularly paced intervals. It’s not needlessly long and it also serves to inform the relationship between the main lead and his romantic interest via effective cinematic shorthand so... it not only backs up the main character but it’s also used to enrich the character arc and, above all, doesn’t outstay its welcome. I found this a much better solution to the usual ‘origins’ problems modern film-makers seem to want to needlessly lumber themselves with so... the movie gets a big tick with me for that.

The Legend Of Tarzan is nicely shot with some wonderful use of three (at least three) different colour palettes... with the scenes in London all being lit with a steely blue bent to show the coldly neutral prison that the main characters' lives have, almost without them realising it, become. These are offset with some yellowish, not quite sepia but heading to that kind of overt colour coding, flashback scenes and, as I was expecting... the full monty in terms of all the colours of the rainbow when we get to the contemporary (to the characters) jungle scenes. So the people behind the camera really thought about this one in an intelligent fashion and it really shows. The film is, in some ways, a joy to watch and I was much taken with both the visuals and, as I intimated earlier, the performances.

Where the film goes wrong is in some of the dialogue. A lot of it is good but, alas, I still think Christoph Waltz is not having good enough dialogue written for him. I’ve not seen him do anything to equal the lines he’s given in the Quentin Tarantino movies he’s starred in and, while Tarantino is a pretty good writer, I don’t think this is because he’s the only one able to write for Waltz. I just think the approach to his personality is not hitting the mark with a lot of his Hollywood productions, it has to be said. I mean, the dialogue they gave him in those terrible Clash Of The Clans adverts about a year ago was pretty good and a darn site better than a lot of the US made movies he’s been in... so I don’t think it should be this hard to get a screenwriter who understands the kind of material that Waltz absolutely excels at. And that’s really not knocking Waltz... he still does a phenomenal job here but... I just felt his scenes could have done with a lot more dialogue to play around with than what he gets here.

Still, that’s a minor complaint in an otherwise cool movie and, although I was less taken with Rupert Gregson-Williams' completely appropriate but perhaps overly clichéd score to the movie, I overall had a good time with this and some of the dialogue was, indeed, excellent. The chemistry between Alexander Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson, for example, really works well and they should maybe put the two in more films together, methinks.

And that’s all I got to say about that one. Not the best Tarzan movie I’ve seen but a lot better than most of the attempts made in, maybe, the last 30 years or so by a long chalk. If you like the Tarzan character then this is an enjoyable, if empty, take on the character and you should find yourself suitably entertained by a fine action film. It’s never going to get anywhere near my 2016 top ten list but it’s certainly not the film I was expecting it to be. So The Legend Of Tarzan is well worth a look if you have some free time on your hands, I reckon.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Doctor Who - The Return of Doctor Mysterio



Whoperman Returns

Doctor Who -
The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Airdate: 25th December 2016
BBC 1


Well this is interesting.

Despite defending the odd preview and trailer for this episode a few weeks back... I seemed to be the only person I knew comfortable the idea of a superhero in Doctor Who (which is not unprecedented... remember the Patrick Troughton story The Mind Robber?). Everybody I know, pretty much, who ventured an opinion on the potential of this story said it was a rubbish idea. And, now the episode has actually aired, I’ve seen a few people on the internet so far, I’m sure there will be more, who thought the episode one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever.

And what’s even more interesting than that... to me at least... is not the fact that, once again, I seem destined to be in a minority. I’m well used to that. What’s interesting is that the episode, for me and, as it happens, for all the family members I watched it with, is one of the best in recent memory. Even topping the 2015 series in which, I think, Peter Capaldi and the team writing for him really came into their own and cracked the formula for his Doctor, after a fairly shaky start.

I’d like to highlight some of the bad things to be found in this episode but, honestly, I couldn’t think of any. It was all pitch perfect. I prefer show runner Stephen Moffat as a writer rather than head honcho, as my history of Doctor Who reviews over the last six years shows.... but when he manages to pull things off right he really does some wonderful work. This story was almost as good as his Doctor Who masterpiece story Blink and here’s why...

We all knew from the marketing that this show had a superhero bent to the plot and, low and behold, it starts off with the camera panning and entering the panel of a comic book. And, what do you know... the colour schemes in this episode are all very simplistic and beautifully reminiscent of the kind of four colour concoctions loved by all admirers of the form, whether they be kids or... you know... 48 year old, bigger kids like myself.

And the performances in this one are all brilliant. Just going to quickly shout that out here and say that the leads other than Capaldi (but obviously including him), especially Justin Chatwin as Ghost and his mild mannered alter ego... the appropriately alliterative Grant Gordon... Charity Wakefield as Lucy Fletcher (the Lois Lane to Grant’s Clark Kent) and Matt Lucas as Nardole... his head restored to his body after last year’s Christmas special The Husbands of River Song (reviewed here), did a lovely job. They were all great but, no surprises here, it’s the dialogue and story structure that wins out in this one.

We start off with The Doctor befriending and accidentally creating the superhero character featuring in this episode and, at the same time, we also find out right from the outset that the superhero of the title, Doctor Mysterio, is in fact, The Doctor. Something which I’m sure we’d all figured out when the title of the episode was first revealed a month or two ago but, you know, there’s always room for error on second guessing what Moffat is going to do with the story line.

From here we get a wonderful narrative which crosscuts between the current plot of an invasion of living brains scooping out human brains before replacing them with themselves and The Doctor visiting Grant at various stages of his life as the realisation dawns that he has been accidentally ‘gifted’ with his superpowers for the rest of his life. Everything is perfect and there are some wonderful reveals here alongside a truly super satire on the way comic books are written and the way the clichés of the format can be celebrated while still being used to help support the very DNA of the writing which is doing so.

There’s some great stuff near the start with The Doctor talking to the young boy version of Grant about Superman and Spiderman that had me almost laughing out loud. And, of course, throughout the show, which also took some great moments from the 1978 Richard Donner movie Superman The Movie as a template before gently playing with them, we have the eternal problem of the absolute travesty of Superman’s biggest disguise, a pair of glasses, being highlighted and then used as a running gag throughout the story. This was great stuff and not subtly done... if it had been more subtle then it probably wouldn’t have been quite so entertaining, to be honest.

We also had another shining score from composer Murray Gold and, all I can say about his wonderful music in this is... isn’t it about time Silva Screen records put out the soundtrack to the 2015 season already, so we can get another step closer to owning the score to this one? Surely it must be time by now?

There’s not really much else I can say about this one. Like I said before, if I could find something to complain about I would but... it was just so entertaining. Something I didn’t expect to be writing today. It even had a very melancholic passage where we realise that the Peter Capaldi version of The Doctor’s timeline has now gone past the point that we first met River. That is to say, he’s now definitely sent River Song back to die, when she personally met The Doctor for the last time (but The Doctor’s first time), in the library in the David Tennant era story in which Moffat first introduced her character. It’s a bitter sweet moment of realisation and both Capaldi and, surprisingly, Lucas, play this really well. Although, I still remember River’s ‘post-death’ words to Matt Smith in one of his last episodes so, you know... never say never.

And that’s that.

We had a trailer for the next series which, in all honesty, didn’t exactly grab me but I’m certainly looking forward to this starting sometime next year. Until then... I may have some old episodes coming up for review sometime soon so, if you like Doctor Who, be sure to check out this blog as I revisit some of the older incarnations of The Doctor once again. And if you missed this one, be sure to catch up with it. It’s one of the best things that’s aired on TV this year.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

 
Season's Greetings

Hi there.

Well it’s that time of year when I get to thank you all for reading and to wish you a Merry Christmas.

It’s actually been a pretty good year for me on many fronts... my personal life is something I’m much happier with and, for the first time in a few decades, work has been pretty good for the last few months too. So I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

This is the bit where I tell you what the future has in store for NUTS4R2 and, it has to be said, I always get it completely wrong.

Well I can, at least, safely predict the very near future on this blog. In a day or two my review of the new Doctor Who Christmas Special should be published here... unless something absolutely awful happens to me when I should be watching it. This has been a full year without the regular programme on air but there will be a new series starting next year (sometime in April is my best guess) and we have had the spin off sister show, Class, to keep us going (yeah, there will be a review of the first, hopefully not the last, series of that going up soon).

I also have to get the inevitable Best Movies of 2016 list up there soonest. Just got one more to watch and one other to rewatch before that list is fully finalised but I hope to have it up by New Years Eve. As usual, my Best Soundtracks end of year list will not happen until the second week or so of January... I have to wait until after my birthday before I can draw a conclusive picture of those as stand alone listens.

As for the rest of the year on this blog... well, I shall try and predict it but I usually get it wrong...

Hoping to get a lot of franchises one here... so some more Zatoichi movies, some more Sleepy Eyes of Death movies, finishing off The Saint movies, finishing off the Charlie Chan movies, a possible rewatch for the Lone Wolf and Cub and Lady Snowblood movies... and likewise for the Indiana Jones, A L I E N, Batman, The Falcon, Stray Cat Rock, Superman and Beverly Hills Cop films. Plus... more gialli, more horror, more exploitation, some blaxploitation and some very strange superhero movies. Plus... I should probably get around to watching films like James Batman (where James Bond and Batman team up... no, I’m not making this up), Brazilian Star Wars and Wolf Devil Woman. Many more titles like these folks... I just have to get the time to catch up on this stuff.

And, of course, the inevitable slew of new cinema releases. People have been saying that 2016 has been an incredibly bad year for film. I’m not so sure... I feel like a lot of the DVDs and Blu Rays I wanted to explore had to be overlooked this year because there were so many interesting releases at the cinema. Will 2017 be the same? We shall all have to wait and see, I guess.

One thing’s for sure though... I’m very grateful for each and every one of you who comes on here to read my words once in a while, even if it’s only very occasionally. So thanks so much for your time and support and have a very Merry Christmas from me. And, you know... a very Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

NUTS4R2s Cryptic Movie Quiz Christmas 2016



The Annual Quiz

So here we are again.

Time for another Cryptic Movie Quiz for the Christmas period.

If you look at the grid above you’ll see spaces for 18 movie titles running horizontally and below are the cryptic clues to help you work out what these non-Christmas movie titles are (I'm sorry if it looks a bit blurry but the new Photoshop is absolute rubbish). To help you out, I’ve filled in a line of letters downwards spelling out EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY... so you have a letter in its correct position for each of the titles. Click on the grid to see a larger version of it.

Once again... and depending on my finances after Christmas... I’ll probably award a small, strange or possibly customised prize (if I know you from Twitter) to the person with the most correct answers.

Email your answers to me at nuts4r2@hotmail.com and you have until the end of New Year’s Day (January 1st 2016) to get your entries in. A few days after that, I’ll stick up the name of the winner (or winners, if it’s a tie), along with all the answers, here on my blog.

By way of an example, here’s a question from last year’s quiz, followed by the answer.

Example question:
One thousand quid for rooms to rent for that annoying, enlightened soul. 21 letters.

Example answer:
One thousand pounds is also known as "a grand" in the UK. An enlightened soul could be Buddha but, if he's annoying, then he could be a bit of a Pest. If he's renting a room then it could well be in a hotel. Hence we have The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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1. A less egotistical, traditionally English adopted drink behaving much more like a flaming headed Johnny! (13 letters)

2. Placed upon an Apple branded, bleeting sheep. (7 letters)

3. Unusual, backwards fish on a rocky pinnacle. (13 letters)

4. Drifting, frozen plasma is a tramp. (13 letters)

5. Whether it’s this Linda or that Linda, it should make an interesting activity. (20 letters)

6. A couple of bonfire night dummies from a city in France. (11 letters)

7. None scrambled at the demonstration of the fourteenth letter of the alphabet. (12 letters)

8. A loose Emergency Room. (7 letters)

9. An unhappy and confused oak is speaking in poetry. A spiritual entity is proceeding positively but in reverse. (14 letters)

10. Rearrange the angle slightly and reshuffle the end of the earth. (10 letters)

11. That young lady stuck between Sunday and Tuesday. (17 letters)

12. Diminuitively speaking James, it’s a greeting. (7 letters)

13. Get in a couple of big fights just above the thigh. You can put this example of typographic spacing in a container if you are family. (18 letters)

14. See the insect and then send a letter to one. (11 letters)

15. To derive, by reasoning, in the negative. (7 letters)

16. A single stalk of wheat gets very angry while wearing a couple of French hats. (16 letters)

17. Great French fiction writer finds himself in a muddle. (5 letters)

18. Unlock to gain access on the Monday and the man is royalty. (13 letters)

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Rogue One



Rogue One’s Run

Rogue One  - A Star Wars Tale
2016 USA Directed by Gareth Edwards
UK cinema release print.


Warning: There’s a whole galaxy load of spoilers in this review so probably don’t read this until you’ve seen the movie.

First up, before I pull this movie apart a little, I’d like to ask you all to take this review with a pinch of salt. The reasons for this are as follows...

1). I was pretty ill when I made the journey into London to see this film. I traditionally always see my first viewing of a Star Wars movie in London’s West End (since the end of 1977 at the age of nine) and so I like to make sure I see each subsequent one in a similar venue (if not the same). If it hadn’t been that the cinema in question, the ODEON Leicester Square, had charged me an exorbitant £24 for the single ticket, I wouldn’t have braved it into the nation’s capital city to see it... I was that ill. This could have affected my viewing of it somewhat.

2). There have been a few films in my life where I didn’t get the brilliance of them until I watched them a second time. These have included The Mummy Returns, Avengers Age Of Ultron (reviewed here) and, very recently, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I’m guessing this was because there was just too much information for me to process the first time around and so, on subsequent viewings, I was able to appreciate the experience much better. So bear in mind that, although I love The Force Awakens now, I initially came out of my first screening totally depressed with it. So... bearing in mind I didn’t hate Rogue One nearly as much as I did The Force Awakens, I’m kinda hoping this troubling movie will grow on me on any subsequent viewings. That being said, I’m not planning on rushing back to see this one anytime soon and that’s all the wriggle room I’m going to give this movie.

Okay, so Rogue One starts off, as has been stated by many people, quite jarringly. There’s no opening title crawl after the familiar “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...” (don’t worry Lucasfilm & Disney, I’ve grammatically corrected the number of dots on the end of the statement for you) which is a bad move, no opening rendition of the Luke’s Theme Star Wars fanfare (another dumb move) but, to be honest, the most jarring thing is not in the visuals but in the music here because, quite frankly, the first shot of the film itself is not inconsistent with the kind of shot you would normally get after a standard title crawl. The difference is purely Michael Giacchino’s opening sting which is deliberately heavy handed, for some reason. Think about the openings of the three Insidious movies (reviewed here, here and here) for a comparison. Giacchino does a similar thing here, albeit less atonal and more in keeping with the musical vocabulary of John Williams.

After this we get a story about how the Death Star plans were recovered to needlessly but, interestingly, make the plot device in the original Star Wars movie (later retitled Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope) work. And, although it’s, for the most part, immersed in something which is similar to the known Star Wars universe, it doesn’t really feel much like a Star Wars movie, to be sure.

One of the many things which make it very different is the goody-goody moral attitude of the Rebel Alliance as portrayed in all the earlier movies. In this film you have one of the good guys shooting an informant in the back under the guise of calming him down and the same character keeping a hidden agenda from his comrades in arms for a good deal of the movie. So these are the dark edges of a war which, while absolutely necessary in real life, I would imagine, to being able to survive a war... have not been overtly on show in a Star Wars movie before, when it comes to the good guys doing bad things (I’m discounting Anakin Skywalker killing all those kiddies in Revenge of the Sith because he was already established as a villain by that point).

Now one of the bad things which threw me in this movie is that it tries so hard to be a separate channel, so to speak, from the regular Star Wars movies, that it seems somewhat contradictive when it does it while making so many references to the originals. Like The Force Awakens, it’s peppered with both sound effects, sound samples and lines of dialogue culled form the Star Wars stories so far. And to compound that further, it has a lot, really a lot, of characters from the original movies popping up in this movie. Like the Walrus Man guy and his surly friend in a moment that looked to me, pretty much, like the whole scene and dialogue was spliced into a new background in a way that almost makes the scene in A New Hope redundant if you happen to watch this one first.

Perhaps the most problematic thing is the return of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. Cushing has been dead for decades now but he’s been digitally resurrected using old footage, re-voicing and CGI twaddle. Unfortunately, he looks just like a bloody cartoon throughout the whole thing and I felt like I was watching a load of cut scenes from an old Playstation video game for a lot of the movie. I think it was a mistake to bring his character back into it this much in this movie, where he seems to have a much bigger role than he did in the original. Now, a friend of mine disagreed with me in the pub about this yesterday and he said the CGI work on Cushing was phenomenal. However, he then went on to say words to the effect that, “... obviously, you could tell it was computer generated but...” and there is the problem in a nutshell. So much CGI in many movies is totally invisible but, when the effects guys get ambitious, they usually ruin it. The fact that you can detect it, even if you didn’t know he was a digitally resurrected character, is absolutely rubbish and, as far as I’m concerned, not worth having in the first place. This monstrosity reminded me a lot of the CGI Yoda in the prequel trilogy, who also looked unrealistic and cartoon like. This is just awful and I think maybe Cushing’s character should have made a minimal appearance at best. When Princess Leia appears at the end of Rogue One, uttering one word, that was at least a bit more minimal and realistic, I thought. A much better use of the technology, as far as I’m concerned. Tarkin just pops you right out of the experience whenever he’s on which was not a good thing.

Another not so good thing is the prison transport truck which is carrying female lead Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. As it trundles along on its wheels you just sit there all popped out of the movie again and go “What the f***? Wheels?” Even the primitive Gungans, over thirty years prior to when this movie is set, had hover technology just like “everything else in the Star Wars universe” asides from, obviously, the AT AT and AT ST Walkers. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Okay, now the movie does something interesting in that we get a character in it who is a ‘Guardian of the Whills”. Now The Journal of the Whills is one of the first bits of Star Wars lore I can remember. It was in the original novelisation of the first movie and it referenced the tale as being a recorded set of facts from these fictional journals. However, although it’s been around in the public conscience since 1977, the Whills have never been overtly referenced in the actual movies themselves, that I can recall. So here we have Donnie Yen playing a Whill Guardian called Chirrut Îmwe except...

Well, there’s no easy way to say this... he’s basically playing Zatoichi.

Now regular readers of my blog will know of my love of the long running Blind Swordsman character Zatoichi and, to be fair, it’s easily the template for this character and the way Yen plays it almost directly references  Shintarô Katsu’s classic take on the character. Now, don’t get me wrong... I loved Yen’s performance here and I would be really surprised if the Japanese don’t offer him a new series of Zatoichi movies based on his performance but... it does seem like his character has just been grafted onto the movie with no rhyme or reason other than they wanted a cool, Zatoichi-like figure. Yes, I know the Star Wars movies are nothing if not a postmodernistic mish mash of various influences from 1930s Flash Gordon serials, Errol Flynn movies and Kurosawa chambera but still, this seems just a little bit too blatant in its ‘borrowing’... even for a Star Wars movie. He’s a cool character though so... whatever.

Darth Vader’s rampage aboard Princess Leia’s ship at the end of the movie makes no sense. Here he is all out using the force and his lightsabre to take out all the rebels, throwing them around with the power of the dark side like rag dolls... but in the following film, the original A New Hope, he resorts to using his hands to strangle a single rebel? Really? If he was still this powerful... doesn’t he come off as a little sedate in the original movies? Hmm... not going to say too much about that.

I’ve read a lot of bizarre criticisms that this is a movie with a strong female lead who dominates the plot. Felicity Jones character is the main character but I wouldn’t say she dominates the film and it really feels like a more ensemble piece, just like the original. So no worries on that front... all the actors and actresses (who aren’t digitally resurrected) do a good job here. I especially liked Alan Tudyk (Wash from Serenity and the Firefly TV show) as K-2SO. He’s pretty good and gets probably the best lines of throwaway dialogue in the entire movie.

It’s funny because people say it drags for the first half an hour and then gets going. I found it dragged the whole time and didn’t get going at all. Although I could see there was a lot of action on screen, it somehow felt really light on the action front to me and I think this was because the music wasn’t carrying me along in the action cues like it should have... which brings me to my main grouch about the movie... the musical score.

Now don’t get me wrong... I love Michael Giacchino and I love this score in some ways. I’m pretty sure when I put the CD on it will be a cool stand alone listen. In terms of what it does for this movie... well all I can say is that I wish Alexandre Desplat had stayed with the project.

Giacchino does some amazing stuff here in echoing John Williams orchestrational style from the first movie (possibly even more subtly than Williams did in his amazingly cool score for The Force Awakens) but what it triumphs in with the technical structure and texture of the sound it loses in its lack of rich melody. So it's like he covered the subtle details of how the scores work while simultaneously missing the broad strokes. Williams’ themes are barely referenced apart from a couple of appearances of The Imperial March (which is wrong because it should have really been pushing the original Death Star theme because The Imperial March doesn’t appear in A New Hope) and a couple of other moments, including Luke’s Theme in the end credits.

Now, I need some melodic, lietmotif hooks to keep me inside the Star Wars experience. This movie appeared not to have any. It’s fine if they want to lose the Williams themes in favour of strong, new thematic material (just like Williams did to a certain extent in The Force Awakens)... but you need to replace them with something consistently recognisable to keep the interest going. In Return Of The Jedi, by the time of the forest battle on Endor, you already know the Ewoks theme because Williams keeps referencing it... so the action music which uses it is something you can tap your toes to as you watch the happy carnage. Here... we have nothing strong that I could latch onto. Yeah... I know this composer only had four weeks to do it and I think he’s done a fantastic job here... I’d be surprised if this is his last Star Wars project. This one just didn’t serve its purpose, as I see it, in this movie. Yes, it’s very clever and uses the grammar of Williams’ scores but... I stayed on throughout the end titles, as I do with all the Star Wars movies, to try and get a handle on the themes and I still had a hard time hearing the melodies. Maybe it was because I was so ill but... maybe not.

And that’s as far as I’m going in this review, I think. I am really hoping that I’ll regret posting such a negative review when I get to see this film again... I’m hoping I get much more out of it on subsequent viewings. At the moment though... yeah, I can’t quite see this as a Star Wars movie... especially when there are some terrible ‘deus ex machina’ moments in it and what looks like a tagged on ending scene for two characters who should have been dead already. there’s some bad stuff in this movie and I was feeling the ‘StarWarsiness’ of any of it by the time the film finished, for sure. However... I’m willing to give it another try so I'll see how it goes next time... I guess.





Star Wars at NUTS4R2

 Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 

Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones

Episode 3: Revenge Of The Sith

Episode 4: A New Hope

Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back

Episode 6 Return Of The Jedi 

Episode 7: The Force Awakens 

Rogue One