Thursday, 26 November 2015

Nightmare City

Halt! Hugo’s There!

Nightmare City (aka Incubo Sulla Città Contaminata)
Italy/Mexico/Spain 1980
Directed by Umberto Lenzi 
Arrow Films All Region Blu Ray/DVD dual release

I’ve been wanting to see Nightmare City for a year or so, since catching up to Stelvio Cipriani’s score on a CD reissue put out by Digitmovies. It’s technically a zombie movie and therefore, I would argue, does indeed belong in the horror category of movie, although I’m sure many people would mistake it for a gory thriller. This is understandable, since the plotline does deal with supercharged, atomic infected humans who have all gone loopy and start killing everyone in various ways... but I’d have to argue the case that the film’s reputation as being a movie in the zombie genre is pretty spot on since, after seeing the zombies riddles with bullets and otherwise killed, they are technically reanimating from the dead to carry on their addiction to blood-letting. This brings a supernatural element into the film which elevates it, depending on your point of view as to which direction the movement goes, and places it firmly into the realm of the horror movie.

This one has a very simple story, for what it is, but the main start off point of a plane full of passengers landing at an airport without permission and, when the doors are opened at the request of the police, delivering a huge outpouring of crazy, zombie people who attack an entire city, was an interesting enough premise to make sure I sought this one out. That being said, I’d caught wind of this Arrow restoration being underway a couple of years back, so I waited until this was released a month or so ago before I made my purchasing decision. In the wild world of film, especially with genre horror and its unwanted attraction from the scissor crazy hands of the censors, the modern film buyer has to be careful and do the research.

The film mainly follows the plight of a TV reporter called Dean, played by Hugo Stiglitz (fans of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds might recognise an homage to this actor in one of the character names of that movie), who witnesses and manages to escape the slaughter at the airport. When he returns to the TV station and finds himself silenced by the military, he then sees the studio who are putting on a live 'contemporary dance show', which obviously involves lots of women in tight fitting leotards, similarly pulled apart by the zombies. He escapes and tries to find his wife Anna, played by Laura Trotter, who is a nurse working at the local hospital... the most obvious place for the contaminated zombies to strike next, as they are rushed in as victims before becoming rampant antagonists themselves. Dean and Anna again manage to escape and they travel about trying to avoid zombies while we cut between them and a couple of equally “are my lovers and relations safe” subplots involving a couple of the military personnel, as we watch the government and the army being thwarted at every turn by the creatures.

Now the zombies in this are, it has to be said, quite intelligent although, it should also be pointed out, they seem to have no consistency in their attitudes or actions when it comes to their murderous attacks. They are quite intelligent and are good at cutting phone wires and disabling electrical power to buildings and areas with a quite deliberate snip of their varied cutting implements... but they seem to approach their killing of innocent victims in a manner which can either be simply ripping them apart and drinking their blood or, with more sophisticated methods like machine gunning them down or slitting their throats, for example. Which doesn’t give them a lot of credibility, especially when some of them stop to aggressively disrobe the female victims before “goring them up good” as you might expect from both a movie which was one of those listed in the notorious Video Nasties scare of the 1980s and, well... an Italian movie of that period where female nudity was pretty much an essential ingredient in films intended for an adult audience. And when I say adult, as is always the case with these brutal but enjoyable romps, I use the term strictly in terms of age restrictions rather than to unwittingly accredit these films with a level of moral responsibility or maturity.

That being said, there is usually an interesting element of hidden sophistication in some of the most excessive exploitation films and it would be hypocritical of me to say I didn’t enjoy these kinds of affairs. However, I much prefer the movies which have a measure of visual elegance about them and, while fan favourite director Umberto Lenzi does have an eye for putting together a fast paced, understandable movie, this one left me a little cold in terms of creative cinematography it has to be said. Although this one does try to rise above the simple nature of the format by bringing up the zombie threat in conversation as the fulfilling of the blight of human nature at some point... it’s mostly paying lip service and is very brief on this point.

As usual though, there are some nice moments in here which are worth watching, including a scene which made me smile when the zombies crash through some doors into an operating theatre and the chief surgeon responds by elegantly throwing his scalpel across the room and into one of the zombies. I don’t know why but the timing on this moment just made me chuckle midst all the crazy carnage. Another scene with an unmanned lawnmower moving across the grass, however, just demonstrates the stupidity of one of the central protagonists and it almost seems like an ironic form of justice in terms of the value of characters like this in the film when they come to a bitter end.

There’s also a strange moment where the realm of the non-diegetic soundtrack of Cipriani’s excellent score... well apart from those horrible 1980s source music sections... blends with the action on the film in a way that it almost imposes on the action. By this I refer to a scene where Dean and Anna suddenly turn, presumably as we discover, to the sound of a group of zombie footsteps. However, when Hugo Stiglitz expression changes, the sound of the footsteps isn’t audible yet on the foley, but Cipriani’s slow and ambient baseline has just kicked in, like it does in a lot of sequences to conjure up the atmosphere of a zombie attack. The result being that, at this moment, it looks like Dean is getting his cue from the score as opposed to anything visible or audible on the screen... kind of a bizarre juxtaposition, I thought.

Now, this really isn’t, as far as I’m concerned, a genre classic like George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead or Lucio Fulci’s Zombi (aka Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters - reviewed here) but I am glad to have seen it because I love the premise and, although the film is pretty repetitive and not in any way scary, as a lot of zombie pictures are, I never really got bored with it and am happy to have this one on the shelf. Arrow have done as bang up a job as they can on the restoration which, in this case, has given them a few problems. They have put two different source print transfers on the discs and you can choose which option you would rather watch and, if you’re into the reasons why this is so, then you can watch one of the many extras, Nightmare City And The Limits Of Restoration, to find out just what the issues are. I found this pretty interesting and informative which, frankly, is the sign of both a good package and, in this case, a conscientious production team on this particular incarnation of the home video version.

The ending section of this film has come in for a lot of criticism over the years and, unfortunately, I was already primed for it because it’s famously not what people wanted from it. Indeed, it is a terrible cliche of an ending and, alas, I can’t really tell you the last intertitle which comes up on the film before the credits run without giving you a huge spoiler... but I have to say that I didn’t mind this ending too much myself. That being said, though, if I wasn’t already prepared for it I’m sure I would have let out a huge moan and had a bit of a rant about it. I can see why the ending has the reputation it has and.... well... I think it’s possib;y deserved. All in all, though, Nightmare City, while not exactly a classic in my book, is the kind of enjoyable rubbish it’s easy to pass a bit of the afternoon with. Being as it’s completely unscary, it would certainly fall into my personal “comfort horror” category and I’m sure fans of the genre in this period will be well up for it. Not the best I’ve seen but certainly not the worst and if you’re into this kind of stuff, the new Arrow version is an essential purchase. Give it a go sometime if late 1970s to mid 1980s zombie movies are your thing.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Simians and Serialism

Killer Serialism

Simians and Serialism: A History and Analysis of
Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Planet Of The Apes
by John O’ Callaghan
Pithikos Entertainment
ISBN: 978-1-5136-0066-6

STOP THE PRESS! This book had already sold out it's entire print run by the time I'd finished reading it and written this review. However, a limited reprint is now available from the author. Don't miss out on this second opportunity to acquire your own copy of this superb tome. You can purchase your book directly from the publishers here at

When John O’ Callaghan brought it to the attention of the cantankerous Film Score Monthly message board community that he was about to publish a new book, Simians and Serialism, concentrating on Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Planet Of The Apes (the film is reviewed by me here and slightly updated in light of information disclosed in this new book) the response was much more enthusiastic than you may expect from the particular message board in question. The author wanted to gauge how big his print run should be and I was one of the many people who eagerly sent an email expressing interest in the project. I’ve always been an avid listener/buyer of film and television music and, naturally, Jerry Goldsmith is one of my favourites... one of the giants of musical composition to support the moving image. It’s also one of his best scores. I’ve often disagreed that the music is a serial score although, as it turns out, my belief that all serial music was strictly atonal music as the reasoning behind this was actually false. Because of this book I now know Schoenberg’s rules of serialism in music can, if you are as good a composer as Mr. Goldsmith, produce melody, harmony and rhythm and still be totally serial. So already this book gets a shining review from me because it taught me something... and it doesn’t stop there but I’ll come back to that in a minute.

When the book was finally ready for sale a few months later I found myself in the position of having to see if I could justify to myself the excessive shipping cost for overseas customers that was attached to the total price tag. I did try to find cheaper alternatives such as Amazon, Abe Books, Ebay and so on but it soon became fairly apparent that the only place I was going to be able pick up a copy of this was from the writer’s website. A week or so later I went to a live performance of the score, played against the film at the Royal Festival Hall, and so I enquired at the British Film Institute book store to see if they could get me a copy... actually thinking they’d already have some in stock to coincide with the show just along the same stretch of river from them. Alas, the BFI cupboard was bare but when it became clear the organiser of the concert had also been dipping into a fresh copy of the book, when he was joined by the conductor for a pre-concert talk... I realised that I really should just bite the bullet and go with it. The Pithikos Entertainment website was, indeed, the only game in town when it came to this particular tome.

Of course, the advantage of that was that, when the book did finally land, not long before the writer managed to impressively sell out his entire limited edition print run a week or two later, it was signed by John O' Callaghan himself.

Now, one of the things I have to make clear is that I don’t know a heck of a lot about music. Almost any of my friends would probably be able to tell you that I absolutely love music and have a particular penchant for motion picture scores but, when it comes to the notation of them, I haven’t a clue. I didn’t even realise until I asked my lady friend about one of the terms used in this book that when it comes to music, what I thought were called notes are actually called tones. Apparently, tones are the sounds and notes are strictly the ‘written form’ of the same... which was news to me but makes perfect sense to me semantically because, obviously, when you unscramble the letters of ‘tone’ you get ‘note’. So, yeah... note short for notation perhaps? I don’t know... I have no idea. But either way, a little of the murkiness in comprehension I was having from the cobwebs in my brain at some points in this book suddenly got brushed aside when she said that.

Of course, being English, music notation was a million miles away from the thorough and actually quite intriguing technical sections of this book compared to what I had been expecting. Where were the crotchets and minims and semibreves? What was all this fourths and fifths nonsense? I have to say that I got a heck of a lot from this book but I did struggle in the technical parts of the score analysis, for sure. Luckily for me, the writer also includes a handy glossary of terms at the rear end of this book so, if you are having trouble like I was at understanding certain of the more elaborate, technical sections... you at least have a ‘handy help’ section to refer to at the end.

It turns out that the author, a director in his own right, went to a lot of time and trouble to try and decode what is apparently the original ‘serial grid’ that Goldsmith must have been working from which, after a lot of musical detective work, became his Rosetta stone. So the score is pretty thoroughly analysed in this book but, even if you’re like me and not musically minded, there’s still plenty of other stuff to get your teeth into because O’ Callaghan did a lot of research into how all the movies in the series came to fruition and each one of those is also touched on. In fact, he uncovered a lot of information which has not been made public before, or possibly swept under the carpet it would seem, and which is only now seeing the light of day.

For instance... some myths are very quickly dispelled in the book. I myself have always been guilty, for instance, of attributing the famous trick ending of the movie, which isn’t in the book (the book is a lot different to the movie inspired by it), to writer Rod Serling because the endings on his famous TV series The Twilight Zone are exactly that kind of writing. However, from correspondence about the various drafts of the script and studies of said manuscripts etc, O’ Callaghan reveals that, although it was Serling's idea to have some kind of stronger ending... the idea of the famous Statue of Liberty reveal and all it implied came from other quarters. Serling worked on a couple of versions of that ending but not, by the looks of it, the one which they finished up with in the final film.

Information like this about the production and the way the varied movies were produced etc. are all over this book and it also goes for the development of the sequels including, of course, the choices for composer on each of the original five films. For instance, I didn’t realise that Jerry Goldsmith was originally attached to do the score for Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and it tells the story of why, in fact, he didn’t end up scoring it. There’s lots of telling, perhaps sometimes damning, information like this scattered throughout the details of Simians And Serialism. After reading it I felt, as much as I learned about the score to the first film, I also learned a great deal about how this motion picture got off the ground, how the production went and various other things about the stars, writers, directors and composers of the entire franchise that I didn’t know before... a fair amount of the information revealed in this book for the first time, it would seem.

All in all then, despite my inadequacies to fully appreciate some of the technical aspects of the score and its use of strict twelve tone serialism, I learned a hell of a lot from this tome and, if nothing else, it was a fascinating read. It’s definitely worth picking up and having a look at this one, for sure but, be warned, Apes fans who think they know their stuff might have to be prepared to have a few of their myths busted when they sit down to read this. One of the better books I’ve read on both films and film scoring in recent years and certainly a hearty recommendation from me. Hopefully the writer can be coaxed to go to a second print run sometime so that more people can get a chance to look this one up. I’m certainly glad I did.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Doctor Who - Face The Raven

Dead End Street

Doctor Who - Face The Raven
UK Airdate: 21st November 2015

Warning: The big spoiler in here which you probably 
already figured out was coming this week anyway.

Jovian Wade returns in this episode, reprising his role of Rigsy who we saw in last year’s Doctor Who story Flatline (reviewed here). He calls The Doctor on the TARDIS because he has woken up with a day’s memory loss and a tattoo on the back of his neck which is counting down. So The Doctor and Clara are on the case and after breaking the news to Rigsy, less than gently, that the tattoo is counting down in minutes until his death, the three look for the cause of this strange phenomenon and soon find a cul-de-sac street, hiding in plain site, into which it’s almost impossible to stumble on by accident. But Rigsy has been here before and sentenced to death by the person running the street, which is a safe haven for alien life forms seeking sanctuary.

Enter Ashildr, the girl who can’t die after The Doctor brought her back to life a number of weeks ago in the episode The Girl Who Died (reviewed here) and who continues to wreak a kind of havoc after the events of The Woman Who Lived (reviewed here), once more played by Maisie Williams. She is running the show and put Rigsy under a death sentence and it’s up to The Doctor, Clara and the victim to prove his innocence before the chronolock she has placed on Rigsy can lead a quantum shade, in the form of a raven, to take Rigsy’s life. However, the rules of this particular death sentence can be transferred to another host and Clara, unknown to The Doctor, transfers the death sentence to herself because she believes herself to be under Ashildr’s protection.

And all that might have worked too if the whole thing hadn’t been a ruse by Ashildr to trap The Doctor with a teleport band to keep her community safe from an enemy that has bargained for access to The Doctor. So by the end of the tale we have one dead companion, Clara, and a very angry and bitter Doctor who is teleported into, presumably, the hands of his unknown enemy. Meanwhile Rigsy, who was a graffiti artist if you can remember back to the events of last year’s Flatline, paints an homage to Clara on the exterior of the abandoned TARDIS.

Yeah, well this isn’t a terrible episode but it is a weak one. Certainly, though, a big improvement on last week’s which was, as far as I’m concerned, the only story which didn’t hold up, so far, in this current series. It was a bit flat in terms of texture and drama, perhaps, but certainly more deserving of being in this season, which has been one of the best since Tennant left the show (as much as I liked Matt Smith’s Doctor... the writing was all over the place).

There were certainly some very nice things about the episode. Clara has been getting more and more reckless and more and more entrenched in taking risks in The Doctor’s world, pretty much since the death of Danny Pink (which they really need to reverse if they’re going to make the timeline’s from last series make sense... or they’ve got a problem, as far as I can see) and this is further reenforced here to give us the idea that Clara will take unnecessary risks. And, of course, choosing to take on the chronolock is one risk too far. So all that was, and has been over the weeks, a nice touch with a good pay off. Also, the way in which the street was hidden in plain sight and the explanation of how you would seek out something like that was, although the episode was admittedly written by Sarah Dollard, something which was very reminiscent of what show runner Steven Moffat might have written, so you wonder how much he informed the writing on this one. I guess Dollard did a bang up job of keeping continuity with the style of what the show has become over the past few years... so that’s all good.

Now then, judging from my twitter timeline, there seemed to be a certain amount of surprise about her death (hang on, I’ll get to that death in a minute) of Clara Oswald. I thought everyone had figured out something like this was going to have to happen in order to make the last two episodes work dramatically in the way they need to... so I found the final scenes of Clara a bit of a disappointment, truth be told. Overly long and melodramatic for something which the audience, or most of us, was fully expecting. That could have been handled in a much more sudden and shocking manner, I thought.

That being said, and here we get to it, I have a hard time believing, as many people do, that this is the last we see of Clara Oswald this season. Admittedly, it is her final series but... I think she’ll be back for the last episode. Something makes it almost inevitable. And I really hope that when they bring Clara back for a little bit, they do so in a way that frees her and Danny Pink to continue on and have children who make the whole Orson Pink timeline possible... or I’m going to be a bit angry at the sloppy writing again. Also, people should try and remember that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Clara Oswald killed. “Run, clever boy... and remember.” Remember that phrase, spoken from her lips the first two times her character died in Asylum Of The Daleks (reviewed here) and The Snowmen (reviewed here)? And remember how she jumped into The Doctor’s unearthed timeline on Trenzalore and proceeded to save his life anonymously and continuously... or put him on the right path in places...  throughout his many past lives in The Name Of The Doctor (reviewed here). I don’t think we’re quite done with Clara just yet... almost but, not quite. I don’t trust this death so much, after all the previous times.

Perhaps what fans should be more concerned with is who it is who has manipulated The Doctor to be trapped like this. Almost certainly The Timelords and Gallifrey will be returning in a week or two... and I am hoping against hope that Missy and The Daleks won’t be. That’s not a bet I’d take, though. I guess we’ll get to see where the 13 incarnations of The Doctor hid Gallifrey too (in the episode The Day Of The Doctor reviewed here)... I always assumed inside the TARDIS but maybe it’s in the ‘confession disc’ that The Doctor has been forced to hand over to Ashildr. Or maybe Clara, Missy, River Song, Timothy Dalton or even John Sim are in there somehow... don’t know, haven’t figured that one out yet. Either way... we shall see what we shall see. I don’t think we’ll find out for a couple of weeks, unless they reveal it right at the end of the next episode.

Meanwhile, Face The Raven was an okay chapter in the continuing saga. One of the weakest of the new series but it’s been a pretty good ride so far this year... I just hope the finale in two weeks time lives up to people’s expectations of the show. Meanwhile, next week we shall see what is supposed to be a completely solo episode starring only Peter Capaldi and the strange place where he has been teleported to... possibly in a bit of an introverted fashion. And you should be able to read my review a day or two after.

Friday, 20 November 2015


Monstro Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 

Monstro! (aka El Monstro Del Mar)
Autralia 2010 
Directed by Stuart Simpson 
Monster Films Region 2 DVD

Oh good grief. You know, I first came across Monstro! as an “other customers have bought” recommendation on Amazon and it haunted me for about a week before I decided to buy this... plus one other from the same company (a decision I realise I’ll now possibly regret) at a fairly low price. After all, with a good looking, chesty babe on the cover and the explanatory tag line “Killer Vixens VS The Creature From The Deep”, how can you possibly go wrong? Well the answer to that question must be somewhere because, in all honesty, Monstro! is a truly terrible film.

And when I say it’s a terrible film I don’t mean that the film is so terrible that it becomes ironically entertaining and something to be held up and cherished and loved for its utter stupidity. That’s the kind of film I was kinda hoping I’d be buying... no, this is just downright hard to watch. I bought this because the title and carefully distilled plot description (see paragraph above) made me assume it was a loving homage to a specific grindhouse style of movie making which has regained a certain amount of popularity of late with films like Machete (reviewed here), Machete Kills (reviewed here) Planet Terror, Hobo With A Shotgun (reviewed here), Nude Nuns With Big Guns (reviewed here) and Nurse 3D (reviewed here)... and I guess, in all honesty, it certainly is. There’s got to be a lot of love for this kind of movie in the hearts of the writer and director, at least I would have thought so... and I’m sure all of the crew, actors and actresses are trying to help reach that same, singular vision.

It’s just a bit of a problem when it kind of misses its mark so often... even with its tongue wedged firmly in its cinematic cheek so to speak (assuming this film did actually get some kind of general cinematic release outside of the festival circuit... I’m not convinced) and it’s a shame because the main premise, as mentioned above, is something that could have been realised in the most outrageously stupid but fun way possible. But, to be fair, the film does at least try hard to deliver.

The movie starts off in black and white to bring it closer to the style of the obvious homage to Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! that the main leads are so obviously trying to channel (reviewed here). Nelli Scarlet plays Beretta, the obvious Tura Satana stand in for the movie and, to be fair, she looks absolutely stunning. She is hanging out in her ‘broken down’ car with her posse consisting of Karli Madden as Blondie and Kate Watts as Snowball. When two men pull over to fix the car, the girls sweet talk them for a bit before slitting their throats and stealing their possessions. They then go to a lock up on some beach in Australia which they’ve kinda inherited (through their murderous ways) but the cranky old, wheelchair bound Joseph, played by Norman Yemm and his clichéd, all vices repressed, twenty something granddaughter Hannah (played by Kyrie Capri) are people they may have to deal with and... why is everybody telling them to beware of the beach?

Well... because there’s a giant sea monster thing who was last there around 20 years ago, of course. As luck would have it, too, it just so happens that it picks now to reappear and start killing people again. When the girls take a hit and one of them dies, it’s up to the four remaining survivors to fend off the sea monster with any weapons at hand.

Now, really, that sounds like just the kind of B-movie I would really want to watch but... it’s just not very good. As I said, the film begins in black and white to move it closer to the Meyer homage as a starting point and as soon as the first person’s throat is slit, it turns into a colour movie. Even that idea is pretty neat... perhaps a bit clichéd now but, something that should be kinda cool. The trouble is, everything looks just a little too low budget and it rarely quite works. It’s a gory film, for sure, with huge amounts of violent death and that’s usually a sure way to at least place it into the realms of exploitation cinema that’s halfway worth watching... but it just looks somehow unsatisfying. The director certainly seems to have a fetishistic obsession with showing as many dismembered hands and limbs in the aftermath of an attack as possible... which I thought kind of odd after a while. Perhaps combining this amount of viscera and torn human flesh with scenes of various of the girls in states of undress might have just notched it up into the “watch it at least once” category for me but alas, and much to my surprise for an 18 rated movie... there’s no nudity in Monstro! either.

So basically the film just rambles on, mostly in static framed shots combined with the odd moving camera footage which doesn’t capture a whole lot of motion or range, it seemed to me. The most shots where any kind of scope of movement plays out is when the camera is shot from another car but, even in the sequences I’m remembering now, the main focus was kept in the centre of the screen so the movement is actually little or none, relative to the speed of the subject. Which was quite possibly an artistic decision rather than one made from any kind of budgetary or technical concern but... it just didn’t work for me here either, to be honest.

Another strange thing is that the period this film is set in is quite hard to pin down. The director, a few times, shows the girls using a cassette player of some sort, including a car casette deck, which I guess would date this film to being set in the 1970s or 1980s. Then, later on, it’s all cool for one of the girls to whip out their modern mobile phone and try and use that. Now, okay, this technique of deliberately shooting films out of period is nothing new, certainly. Films like the early Universal Horror cycle of the 1930s and 1940s, for instance, used different technologies mingled together anachronistically so you couldn’t tell which period the movies were actually supposed to be set in (as a way of trying to pre-empt any future continuity errors, I would guess) and another famous use of this technique can be seen in Tim Burton’s two Batman movies. Here though... it seemed like I was spending as much of my time trying to figure out why the heck the girls were using things like tape decks as I was trying to figure out why very few people in this film seem to be doing very much actual acting. Is it the script which is, admittedly, not top notch or is it that just nobody in here could actually act? About the only one who was halfway decent of the main leads was Nelli Scarlet as Beretta, if looked at in a kind of retro kitsch way but... ahh, I was having difficulty getting through this one, I can tell you.

The, presumably practical, special effects aren’t all that great either. Passable in a few places but I remember noticing that, in one scene where the sea monster attacks a load of fishermen, it was looking a bit shoddily executed and I noticed the filmmakers had plumped for rapidly crosscutting this scene with a scene of the girls partying in, I presume, a desperate attempt to distract from certain technical shortcomings during this sequence. The constant establishing shots of either a slowed down or sped up shot of waves breaking against the beach throughout the film didn’t do much to impress me either and the score and song-track, while possibly evocative of the film that the people responsible for Monstro! wanted to make, didn’t really do this one any favours either and I’m afraid it all left me a bit cold.

So there you have it. As a lover of cheap, z-grade exploitation movies I found practically nothing good in Monstro!, apart from my admiration of the ‘look’ of the way the leading ladies were made and dressed up. Over and over again the movie struck me as being too lacking with its budget and not over the top enough in a good many of the sex and violence scenes that are the currency of a good exploitation movie. What we’re left with here, sadly, is a truly great idea for a film but with a shoot that didn’t allow that film to actually come out and play in front of the camera in a way that really works. Not a film I could recommend to any of my friends who would normally like this kind of movie... ultimately it was just a bit dull and lifeless and that tag line, Killer Vixens VS The Creature From The Deep, while true in actual footage, is not true in spirit to the imagery the mind might conjure up when one reads it. Still... at least it has a coherent narrative, which is better than one other movie I saw this year.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Star Trek The Ultimate Voyage Concert Tour

Hailing Frequencies Closed

Star Trek The Ultimate Voyage Concert Tour
The Royal Albert Hall
1st November 2015

You know, I’ve been to loads of great movie music concerts over the years. Starting off when I saw John Williams at the Barbican in 1981 or 1982... where he conducted Holst’s The Planet Suite followed by music from Superman The Movie, Close Encounters, his first two Star Wars scores, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and, in an astonishing encore, the premiere UK performance of a piece of music from his up and coming film E.T. I was 13 or 14 years old and it was a great experience. I saw a few more concerts by him over the years too.

Over the remaining decades since that first time, I also saw some great concerts by the likes of Jerry Goldsmith (more times than I can remember), Michael Nyman (even more than Goldsmith), Philip Glass (again, too many times to recall), Elmer Bernstein (three times), Ennio Morricone (three or four times), John Barry (a couple of times) and Howard Shore... to name drop a few. I’ve also seen some of the new style concerts over recent years, where clips are simultaneously projected as silent montages, such as a brilliant concert by Danny Elfman for his music for the Tim Burton movies and even some full-on films where the score is played live to the projected movie, giving the audience an insight into the way the orchestra works against the images and sound on screen... such as the two recent Star Trek films at the Royal Albert Hall and Goldsmith’s Planet Of The Apes at the Royal Festival Hall. There have been a  lot of these kinds of ‘movie with music’ screenings going on in London over the last couple of years, presumably because the organisers of these things have discovered that these are really popular... and not surprising either. In this way you can see film music put into practice against the images they were composed for (a key point which will come up again in a minute) and really see the art and craft of the scoring of these movies coming alive before your eyes and ears. They can be great fun...

And, yeah... they’ve mostly been pretty good, overall, to tell the truth. You always get the odd bad one and there’s no such thing as ‘the perfect concert’ but, the number of live performances I’ve seen that I loved far exceed the number of concerts I’ve had a bad time at. I rarely review concerts because... well, they are what they are and the review is rarely going to be more than an account of the one off performance in question... which can be entertaining but less useful in terms of judging whether you should go take a look at it. That moment is usually long gone.

I am, however, making an exception in this case because the Star Trek concert I saw a few weeks ago at the Royal Albert Hall was quite badly presented and I had some real problems with it on a couple of counts. It’s also touring in 2016 and I think people should know what they’re getting into here.

Part of my problem stems from having such a brilliant orchestra, the London Philharmonic, a conductor, Justin Freer, who knew how to get the best out of them, two legendary guest conductors - composers Ron Jones and Jay Chattaway - and a play list of 29 mostly great pieces of music from 50 years of Star Trek that made the mouth water when I saw the programme... and then having a simultaneous presentation which completely, and in almost every way possible, detracted from the music for most of the time.

It started off okay with the first half of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s famous theme, despite what it said in the printed programme, unfortunately cutting off before they got to the Klingon battle music half way through the piece. Which was a shame but I wasn’t going to complain too much... until, after a couple of pieces of music were played from other things when the second half of the track was performed as a separate suite. What the f***? That wasn’t the worst thing, however. As soon as the second piece in the concert started, an audio/visual presentation began which would last through the whole two hours of the show... and it wasn’t kind to the performance.

For starters, they had a narrator, I don’t know who (could have been Michael Dorn, I guess), starting a continual, pretentious monologue about man’s endeavours, how the characters are all noble and tough, how we all collectively strive to be better people etc, playing right over the music. This was accompanied by constantly shifting montages from all the various Star Trek films and TV series, mixed together, including full sound effects and intrusive dialogue... all played over the top of the orchestra’s hard work. The music was rarely even from the same era or show from which the clips being used were chosen from... it was ludicrous. It was like a mix and match scene and I really didn’t want to watch...say... excerpts from the exciting ‘drop’ action sequence of the 2009 Star Trek movie while I was trying to listen to James Horner’s End Titles from Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan? I also knew I didn’t want to be watching excerpts of Khan - the Montalban and Cumberbatch incarnations - whilst trying to listen past the dialogue and sound effects to the End Credits Suite from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country! 

I mean, asides from the overblown ‘connecting’ dialogue voice over, the clip montages were mostly quite good... but how could you possibly concentrate on the music? I was realising half of the pieces I was waiting for had already passed me by because I was too busy trying to shift my concentration away from the visual density and noise of the presentation. This was appalling. I remember Goldsmith saying in or before at least a couple of concerts, sometimes in a pre-concert talk, that he absolutely hated it when a piece of music he’d composed to be shown with a specific sequence of images was used to accompany a different set of images. He then went on to illustrate how Ridley Scott (Goldsmith’s scores for Alien and Legend were both treated quite badly in their final presentations too) or somebody like that had temp tracked a cut of a movie using parts of his old scores and he’d been very unhappy about it. He knew what the music was supposed to be conveying with the images and putting the music he’d composed with other images was just wrong. Imagine how he would have felt, were he alive, if he’d have seen this so-called concert, where almost all of the pieces of music on offer were put in the background to serve totally different emotional hits than what they had been composed for. I reckon, after hearing stories about the great man, that he would have been less than calm with this decision and I wonder if his departed spirit would come back and haunt the people responsible for this event at some point... Star Trek Experience - The Wrath Of Goldsmith.

Now, the concert wasn’t all bad... there were a few instances where they let the actual visuals, dialogue and effects playing on a clip with the actual score composed for that sequence play out as it did in the original, with live accompaniment... such as the stand out moment of the concert where the fight scene from the Star Trek episode Amok Time was screened, supported by Gerald Fried’s iconic action music written for that scene. Sad to say, though, that these moments were exceptionally few and far between and, for me, this one piece was the only bit of the concert that really worked. At least the music fit what was gong on and I could hear the way the score was working properly, without any distraction other than visuals which already worked in harmony with it.

As far as the rest of the concert was concerned... well... the lady I was seeing the show with was clock watching and, although she’d been really looking forward to the music, suggested we could leave during the interval if I wanted... I said we should see it through and at least wait and see what the encore was (there wasn’t one) but, she was obviously not having a great time with the concert either and, when we talked afterwards, it seemed she was having the exact same problems of a distracting and needless presentation that I was having. The organisers should have seriously ditched the screen content and noise on this one, I think.

Now, when I think back on it, it becomes clear to me that this was maybe more of a propaganda/promotional piece for Star Trek rather than a celebration of it. It kinda pains me to say this and there were certainly no “buy our DVDs and Blu Rays - in shops now” moments in the well put together presentations... it was mostly done quite tastefully. However, the lack of respect for the way the busy sound and footage detracted from actually being able to concentrate or, in actual fact, consciously register the music above all the hullabaloo, seems to me to say a lot about what the target audience was for this... certainly Star Trek fans above music fans, it seemed to me (and to the person who came with me). It seemed specifically fired up to the aim of getting everyone rushing home and watching, consuming and buying more Star Trek and I’m sure that’s the thing that most people, whether consciously or unconsciously, would have taken away from this event. I can’t imagine anybody saying... ooh, Rosenman’s opening titles from Star Trek IV was really well done because... well, could they even hear them?

The concert finished with a big disappointment for me too. The Alexander Courage theme, which I’d seen played amazingly by the same orchestra earlier in the year, was the expanded arrangement which is on the Johnny Williams and the Boston Pops album Out Of This World. It’s a version of it I’ve always hated for its deviation in spirit from the original and I can only assume they wanted to round off the concert with this extended version because they wanted to make their final montage of clips last just that little bit longer. Oh well... at least I couldn’t concentrate on that piece so much, over the visual and audio noise... which is not the kind of consolation I want to be taking away from any film music concert.

I find it increasingly strange in a growing market of soundtrack listeners worldwide, that the people who organise events like this do not seem to be listening to what the people who listen to this particular niche music like and dislike. I know people every year, on various message boards which anyone can access, complain in no uncertain terms when a record producer decides to put dialogue from a film over a musical cue. I could understand it to a certain extent, back in the days before people had access to some kind of home video system, where an argument could be made that the record release was pretty much the only souvenir of the film’s audio track available on the market... but we moved on from that back in the 1980s. People who buy scores, in the majority, don’t want their music sullied with any dialogue or sound effects... and people (including myself, I guess) can get quite vocal about it. Why then, would the organisers risk alienating their music loving concert goers by screwing up the most important part of it and tracking in dialogue, sound effects and busy visuals to pull away from that experience so intrusively?

Now, to be fair, it might be that this concert tour wasn’t aimed at a soundtrack listening audience at all. I’m sure lots of ‘trekkies’ or ‘trekkers’, or whatever the latest fashionable term for fans of this high quality science fiction franchise is, were probably there and they probably had a really good time with it. However, I was there for the music and the insult of having such a wonderful play list performed by truly brilliant people and then not being allowed to listen to it properly was purely a lesson in frustration, as far as I’m concerned. And I know the person I was with thought so too. It’s actually put us both off going to this kind of event before approaching the ticket buying process with extreme caution in future.

The programme for the event, costing an exorbitant £10 on top of the ticket, was also quite telling. Midst some writing about the orchestra and guest conductors, there was also an article on The Science of Star Trek. Really? What’s that got to do with the music? There’s a Western concert happening in March and my friend said to me that she’d quite have liked to go to that one but it looks like they’ll be playing clip montages again over the music... so count her out. Sentiments I really can’t blame her for after this fiasco and I think I may not be going either, I suspect.

The reason I’ve written this review is not specifically to have a whine, although that helps take out frustration somewhat... it’s because of this - the show is apparently touring in 2016 and, frankly, I’m hoping the organisers may have a long think about how they’re selling this to the concert going public. Maybe pitching the advertising a little to make it clearer that the music will be obscured or maybe even tweaking the presentation a little to dial it back from being such an overwhelming experience might raise this ‘experience’ to a much greater level musically. I’m sure the various orchestras involved would prefer the public to be able to hear them properly, right? Anyway... I’ve said my piece and done my bit. I’m honestly not sure if this is the worst concert I’ve been to in my time but it’s down there among the worst and, at no time, were any of the wonderful conductors or orchestra members to blame... so it’s a bit of a shame. Moving on now... and hopefully purchasing my tickets to live events with a bit more caution in future. Listen long and prosper.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Doctor Who - Sleep No More

Ma Hat, Ma Sandy

Doctor Who - Sleep No More
UK Airdate: 14th November 2015

Warning: Some spoilers.

Okay, I’m calling it right here in the sincere hopes I’m not proved wrong by any of the three, upcoming episodes remaining in this year’s Doctor Who offerings... Sleep No More is the worst episode of the current series.

Having said that, of course, I’ve been rattling on about how it’s been easily the best season we’ve had of Doctor Who since David Tennant left the show so... compared to some of the weaker episodes of the last four or five years... it’s still kinda okay. I think. I’d have to have a think about it I guess.

Mark Gatiss wrote this one and I have a lot of time for him, even though I don’t always like the episodes of Doctor Who that he writes. Now, since this aired last night I’ve seen a lot of people damning the writing of this particular episode but, you know what, I don’t think the writing is all that at fault here. I think  it’s written beautifully and there are some lovely dialogue exchanges between Clara and The Doctor, performed expertly as always by Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. The idea is kind of sound too... although it is kinda obvious. It took me about six minutes in, since the first encounter with the monsters, to figure out it was a partial remake, in a way, of Forbidden Planet (or Shakespeare’s The Tempest... whatever) in that the threat was some kind of creature created by the characters themselves. Gatiss’ clever spin on this however, rather than making them 'The Ids That March', was to make the monsters intelligent sleep dust, created by the eye and as part of a by-product of the human reaction to the sleep machines mentioned constantly in the show... the Morpheus machines which compress hours of sleep into a five minute or so slot. A bit like the intelligent snow created by The Great Intelligence in the 2012 Christmas Special The Snowmen (reviewed here).

The other thing Gatiss has done is gone for a kind of found footage style show... even going so far as to forego the usual opening credits sequence this time around. However, it’s here that I think the direction of this particular episode really lets it down. The camerawork doesn’t seem to be as shaky and as ‘up close and personal’ as it needs to be to get that frightening effect. It’s possibly realistic but... found footage genre is always only trying to give an ‘impression’ of reality while it’s real goal, usually, is to enhance the scares to make you wet your pants (or in this case perhaps, space pants, but you’d need to watch the episode to find out why they’re now officially space-pants for the duration of the show... Gatiss does some really nice stuff with the dialogue in this). The way this episode is staged and the narrative interrupts to string it all into one whole do smack of trying to spoon feed the regular audience just a little too much, I feel and, while the narrative anchor points do have a kind of purpose of their own, by the time of the very last one, I think this was a little bit of a miscalculation here.

The other thing that Gatiss does is try to have his cake and eat it. Yes, we’ve all seen supposed ‘found footage’ horror films that have forgotten to access the camera reference point at certain places, thus making a nonsense of the credibility of the entire film. However, the point is that we have all seen them, so when this episode starts deliberately doing the same it’s not really much of a reveal when The Doctor hacks the so called footage and we find out the source is something else other than the helmet cams that each of the rescue party in the story are wearing on their hats. This also, of course, negates the necessity for any camera shake... which was one of my criticisms of the episode in the paragraph above... which I’ll happily stand by as it happens because, rationale or no rationale, this looks like it’s trying to be a scary episode and, well... it just isn’t. It fails and, as I said, it all seems a bit too over-prescribed to have the terrifying effect that an episode like this ought to have. Also, the 'stock' looks too clean and of a continually matching quality to really give that ‘edge of reality’ feel, I thought.

A big life saver here could have been another of Murray Gold’s fabulous scores but, because it’s kind of masquerading as a ‘found footage’ story, guess what? Yeah, that’s right, no score here. Absolutely the right choice to make, of course, bearing in mind the content but... it could have really given the episode a big lift, to be sure. Bit of a shame but at least the production team stuck to their guns and saw this through in an appropriate manner, is all I can say to that.

So that’s about all I’ve got on this one. Completely dull and non-entertaining episode... the first truly dreadful one of this series and, hopefully, the last. I reckon the next three episodes are going to be pretty blistering and, dare I say, quite revelatory or perhaps shocking for regular fans of the show so, you know, have got high hopes for how the rest of the series will play out. Going to file Sleep No More under the following category in the meantime: nice experiment, interesting failure.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse


Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse
2015 USA
Directed by Christopher Landon
UK cinema release print.

Ha! You know, if I’d have known this film had the same director as the only bad Paranormal Activity movie, The Marked Ones (reviewed here) then I would probably given it a wide birth... then again, maybe not. It’s pretty hard to fail with a movie that has the title Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse and, as it happens, I was rather glad I gave this one a try. It’s not too terrible, actually.

The film comes from a long line of movies which pitch occupations or stereotypes against a set of B-movie style monsters such as Zombie Strippers (reviewed here), Cockneys VS Zombies (reviewed here) and Strippers VS Werewolves (reviewed here). Like a lot of those kinds of movies it’s a mostly hit and miss affair (the exception being Cockneys VS Zombies... which is pure class all the way) with a lot of emphasis on fun and as much in the movie that works as there is that doesn’t.

The story is about the last three boy Scouts in a small town about to participate in what two of them think will be their last night wearing the uniform. They plan to tell both their best friend and also the Scout's leader (played by David Koechner) about their decision to leave the Scouts after this last campout... after sneaking out to a party in the middle of it... at least that’s the plan. However, zombie shenanigans are afoot and it doesn’t take long before their chief is the victim of a zombie deer which was accidentally run over by two of the guys earlier. So it’s up to the three remaining buddies played by Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan... and a cool as heck, firearms skill-set stripper they befriend, played by Sarah Dumont... to rescue whoever is left in town who isn’t a zombie and get out of there before the military bomb the whole place in two hours time. So there’s your plot set up... simple but absolutely effective for this kind of movie.

The film is a bit uneven in that there’s a lot of crude or vulgar humour in it and, to be honest, I’m not sure I’m quite the target audience the writers were aiming at. That being said, there’s also some clever stuff and, frankly, the writers had me on their side as soon as I saw that the name of the local strip joint was called Lawrence Of Alabia. When the puns are that strong and sexy... I’m in for the duration, for sure.

Luckily, as it happens, the movie also has a lot of heart and though the adolescent shenanigans of the sex hungry Scouts are used to drive certain parts of the narrative, the four lead characters are all fairly sympathetic people who most people will be rooting for and who you wouldn’t, in all honesty, mind hanging out with for a few hours in a pub... so there’s some strong writing in here too, bolstered up by some sterling performances from the main cast.

There’s also the fact that the writing of the characters follows through on their initial set ups rather well, which is something Hollywood doesn’t often do very well these days. Okay, granted the intentions of two of the characters have changed by the end of the movie but that’s kind of understandable in that they’ve grown somewhat, arguably, from their high energy, zombie crunching adventures... so that’s to be forgiven. However, for example, we also have the great stripper character Denise, played by Sarah Dumont. Yes, she’s initially treated as eye candy to a certain extent but, ultimately, she proves to be probably the strongest, most confident character in the film... not only rescuing the three male protagonists regularly but also using a smattering of her sexuality to imbibe Tye Sheridan with the confidence to achieve something he wants to get out of life (yeah, I’m trying to leave out the spoilers here so pardon me if that’s a cryptic reference). All the time, though, her character follows through on not being that interested in hooking up with any of the male leads and, ultimately, not letting herself become a figure of ‘happy ending’ lovers syndrome which plagues so many movies... her character finishes out the movie with her sexuality intact and uncompromised by any of the male protagonists in the film... and that’s a good and confident arc for any character to have, I think. Dumont really nails the performance too... it has to be said.

Some of the jokes do fall flat and are a bit crude in places, often involving various zombie body parts like the breasts and penis under extreme duress... but the film is also inventive in some places too. While there is frequent blood and gore, like all the best zombie movies, there’s also some creative variations on the violence too... one of which, involving the top end of a broken off bottle and which got a big laugh from the audience I was with, is something I definitely didn't see coming. Also, the weapons the Scouts ‘MacGyver up’ at the end in the obligatory pre-showdown ‘tooling up’ sequence, while seemingly a little long in terms of content for a time limit of a town that’s going to blow up in less than two hours, also throws some interestingly gory moments into the mix.

All in all, there’s not a hell of a lot more I can say about Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse other than, unlike most zombie movies, where everything is usually left completely unexplained, there is a scene at the start of the movie which does at least clarify where and how the zombie outbreak starts... even though there’s still not too much in terms of explanation as to why it’s been started in the first place, depending on how you decode the intent of a laboratory technician at the start of the picture. This aside though, the higher moral pitch of the characters more than makes up for any off colour humour, which may or may not seem in bad taste in certain sections of the movie and everything's done with a certain sense of fun which comes across, almost by osmosis, to the audience. It’s not exactly a classic movie but it certainly is going to hold your attention and make you smile a lot. This flick would definitely play well to an 'all nighter marathon' kind of crowd and, if you are already a zombie movie fan, then this kind of ‘something versus zombies’ movie is definitely an event kind of film. Certainly check it out if you are into horror comedies with a lot of goriness to them... or your DYB DYB DYB may come to a DOB DOB DOBBY end.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Dracula's Heir

Heir Raising

Dracula's Heir: An Interactive Mystery
by Sam Stall 
Quirk Books 
ISBN: 9781594742859

Well this is a very nice idea, I must say.

In this modern age where the Kindle and other such reading devices have, for better or worse, taken such a hold on the international reading market, it was nice to hold in my hands a rather unusual volume which prides itself, almost, on giving the reader an interactive experience which is more of a tactile one. That is to say, although I’m sure the contents of this book could be fairly accurately reproduced in an electronic form, to do so would be to miss the point somewhat and take away a lot from the charm of the book... it would lose almost everything in translation to a virtual realm, I fear.

To explain, Dracula’s Heir comes with the strap line “An Interactive Mystery” but, this is not interaction in the sense that most youngsters would understand it today. This is a puzzle of a book, a whodunnit if you like, with the emphasis being placed more on the “Who is the vampire?” aspect of that question at the heart of this story. But the way in which the story within the story is presented, reveals another mystery... Why is the author of this work in danger? If you solve the riddle of who is the vampire and just what their link is with the original Bram Stoker novel Dracula, then you will also, I expect, have the answer to the original question of the fictional author’s own hasty mortality.

To find the solution to this conundrum, you read through the book and, at various regular and random intervals, you come across sealed or ‘bound in’ pieces of printed paraphernalia which you can study at your leisure to help in finding clues to the story at hand. This is a sequel to the original novel but it takes the premise that Dracula was actually a true account of the happenings involving the real people in the book... and that Stoker’s account of their adventure is seen from the time of the events to be a highly fictionalised fancy instead of what it is for the people in the book... a recording of the nightmarish events of their very real life.

Starting off with an author telling how he came to be in possession of all the wonderful artefacts dotted about the book, we then start reading the post-Dracula journal extracts of the Dr. Seward character from the original novel, and this account is what takes up the bulk of the book, taking little pauses here and there while you study the wonderful clues and “interactive” items dotted throughout; such as handwritten letters, old photographs, a reproduction of two pages of a Victorian newspaper, an extract from Renfield’s journal and even a mysterious unpublished chapter or Bram Stoker’s Dracula which was withheld from publication at the request of Jonathan Harker, in case it caused him unnecessary embarrassment should the contents of that chapter, which takes place very early in the original Stoker novel (before he has even met Count Dracula), come to light. This fictional “lost chapter” again takes the form of a smaller book or pamphlet attached to one of the pages of the actual book.

I have to say upfront, one way in which this book falls down a little, is because I was pretty sure I knew who the vampire in this tale was right from the introduction of a particular character into the narrative and, alas, the writer’s attempt at misdirection to point to other characters within the story just reenforced that belief which, at the end of the book, turned out to be the correct solution to the mystery. That being said, it’s such a wonderfully presented thing, and fairly well written (although I’m not sure Stoker would have used some of the words which frequent that mini chapter, or at least not have spelled them like that) that I am quite happy to dismiss the obviousness of the book’s final solution because I had such a great time reading this one... even though it’s a fairly quick read.

Another great thing about it is the illustrations in the book by Roland Sarkany, which really do depict events as they happen in Dr. Seward’s journal and take the form of truly beautiful black and white plates detailing some of the action in the story. Now, I have to say that in one sense the illustrations are an intrusion, because they do kind of break the fourth wall of the book, so to speak, by illustrating something which is being presented as fact, but there is certainly room in the premise to the extent that the fictional author of the story has prepared the documentation for publication... which presumably also meant him commissioning illustrations for this work. However you want to justify it though, intrusion or not, the illustrations are fantastic and give it another little lift which the various clues and artefacts found in the pages are also doing... making this tale a rare and tactile experience for people who like to really engage with a book in ways in which an electronic device can only hollowly mimic, without properly replicating the actual experience of holding this volume in your hands and working through the clues as they are presented.

At the end of the book, there is a sealed section with a few more pages, once it’s been clarified... and anyone reading this will surely know this is coming so I don’t think this would constitute a spoiler... that the fictional author has gone missing. The arrival at the publishers of the long letter, the contents sealed in the end section, is from the actual vampire of the tale and explains the connections and the full details of the web of deceit which you will find revealed to you as you read through the book. At the end of the day, there’s nothing truly revelatory about the contents of the sealed section if you have been paying attention throughout the story, but it does give a sense of closure to the proceedings and, although this end section probably wasn’t needed, it certainly didn’t detract from the content of the rest of the book and, all in all, I have to say that I had a really great time with this tome, which was an unexpected Christmas present.

Definitely recommended for lovers of the Dracula myth and for people who like minor puzzle solving. I’ve since found that the publishers, Quirk Books, have put out at least two more ‘interactive mysteries’ of a similar nature... one written by Sherlock Holmes’ Doctor Watson and another one which involves the early days of Bruce Wayne and his more famous alter ego, Batman. All I can say is, on the strength of this wonderful little journey of a story, those two are definitely going on my Christmas list this year. A lovely present and a corker of an experience, even if the mystery itself is perhaps a little too easy to solve.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Doctor Who - The Zygon Inversion

Inverted Comas

Doctor Who - The Zygon Inversion
UK Airdate: 7th November 2015

Warning: Again, some minor spoilers.

Okay... this is going to be yet another of a series of much shorter reviews of Doctor Who this season, purely because I really don’t have much to say about this one and, certainly, not much bad to say at all. The Zygon Inversion continues where The Zygon Invasion (reviewed here) left off and, rather than doing what I thought it would do by giving us a weak link conclusion to last week’s set up that really wasn’t, in all honesty, the most interesting opening salvo, it surprised me by dumping a lot of the mindless action and exploring the ideas inherent in the basic storyline with a little more detail. This is something Doctor Who has been doing a lot this season and, I have to say, it continues being one of the more riveting series' of the last five years of the show because of it. I’m not saying it’s a great idea to dumb down on the action completely but they are doing less of it, it seems to me, and I think the writers are getting a pretty cool mix of elements so far.

So this week started up exactly where we left off as the writers and Jenna Coleman commenced an exploration of the link of the comatose body of Clara that the Zygon version of her had been using as a master template, so to speak. We are inside ‘comatose Clara’s’ head as she starts to influence the mind-link between her and her Zygon copy, trying to manipulate events from the inside of her mind. Clara’s always been written as a pretty strong character from the outset... starting off when she was the mystery character who kept dying before the revelation of just why that was... and once again we have her full-on in a pitch mental battle with The Doctor’s foes and, at the end of the day, cited by The Doctor as being the one who made him rethink his approach to the options of death and destruction in the first place, by direct reference to the 50th Anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor (reviewed here) once more. A story which, incidentally, was also the first return of the Zygons after their original appearance opposite Tom Baker in the 1970s.

So we have Clara and, presumably, a lot of dead UNIT soldiers, including at least one regular, who seem to have been just swept under the carpet a little since their certain death cliff hanger from the previous week. We also have a great lack of reveal of The Doctor as a Zygon... hooray, the script writers didn’t play that card after all while still managing to make good on the promise of last week’s stonking cliff hanger and, instead, plumping for an answer which is... well it’s maybe less of a Doctor Who solution but it’s a valid ‘adventure story’ kind of moment so, yeah, it kinda works and it’s a lot less deux ex machina than the scenario I just assumed they were going to use... so there’s that.

We also have Jemma Redgrave returning again as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, heading up UNIT and fooling absolutely nobody watching that she wasn’t a Zygon after all but, that’s okay, the punchline to her flash back moment where she shot her would-be Zygon murderer with the words “Five Rounds Rapid” was a fan pleasing moment since it’s what her fictional father, Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart, famously said for the first time in the Jon Pertwee era story The Daemons (reviewed by me here). A round of applause to the team behind the show for that one... and for the William Hartnell painting moment which I thought I’d glimpsed the week before (now confirmed) and the references to The Doctor’s old companion Harry Sullivan from that original Tom Baker story of yesteryear, Terror Of The Zygons.

Okay so... all well and good. We have Osgood back now too, as what could either be a human and a Zygon or two Zygons. Something tells me we’ll find out the answer to that conundrum at some point over the next two years... and the show’s writers do keep teasing her as a more regular companion at every chance they get throughout the show so... watch this space. I was also glad she took a verbal swipe at The Doctor’s new ‘sonic sunglasses’, pointing out how ridiculous they are. Hopefully Moffat is just teasing us with the absence of our favourite timelord’s sonic device.

And to top it off we have some pretty cool moments of Murray Gold scoring in a kind of action/horror vein... coming up with some tension building motifs just when they are required. So, yeah... all in all a great episode, well written (better than the set up hook), well performed and with a nice, quite dark heart involving The Doctor in a talking solution. Admittedly, he was doing an impersonation of Hughie Green in Opportunity Knocks for a lot of that but it was all still pretty good. That being said, I don’t know what younger viewers of the show are going to make of Peter Capaldi doing an impersonation of a famous presenter who hasn’t really been seen on British screens since the late 1970s... and  I mean that most sincerely, I really do, viewers! Still, it brought back memories for us ‘oldies’ in the audience and this current series of the show certainly seems to be more adult oriented, it has to be said.

Perhaps that’s on of the reasons I’m happy to continue to report that this year’s episodes have made up a stonking good season so far. Only four episodes proper to go now but, of course, all that good work could change at a moment’s notice if a really bad episode comes to light. I have a suspicion that the next four episodes may be very tightly linked and I’m thinking something pretty big with some serious repercussions for the characters in the show may be just around the corner. Will it be in next week’s episode that the pennies finally start dropping? We shall see I guess. Let ‘em bring it on.

Thursday, 5 November 2015


Gone With The Mind

2015 Spain/Canada/USA
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Yeah, spoilers all over this review. 

I wanted to see this movie because I trust the lead actor, Ethan Hawke, to make interesting choices when it comes down to films to star in and the premise of this one looked kinda interesting. I eventually ended up in the Empire cinema in Leicester Square but, it turns out, in the smallest screen possible. For the outrageous price of a tenner, I was watching the movie in a screen which only contained 23 seats, divided unevenly between three rows. I guess the manager made the right choice of screen size for this film though because, despite the fact that there really shouldn’t be any screens this size outside of someone’s living room (you definitely shouldn’t be charging more than 50p for the privilege in that kind of tight squeeze environment), I was the only person in that screen watching the film on a Saturday afternoon. I’m guessing Regression won’t be breaking box office records anytime soon.

I’ve only seen one other movie by Alejandro Amenábar and that was The Others... which disappointed me big time when it was released into cinemas because it had a so-called twist ending which I'd found pretty obvious. The one thing I took away from the experience was that the director had composed his own score, which wasn’t a bad one. Other than that, despite some good performances and atmospheres, that film left me kinda cold.

However, because of this experience, I was primed for Regression to have some kind of twist ending and so, as I watched the story unfold, my mind was turning to find out what was going on but... as the film progressed to the end of its running time, I began to realise that, not only wasn’t there any kind of twist to the film, there really wasn’t even anything actually happening at all. So if you don’t want the ending of this film spoiled... don’t read the next couple of paragraphs.

This film is purported to be based on real life events which, having watched it now, I can fully believe... given the lack of anything actually occurring. It also claims to be about a devil worshipping cult which is turning families against themselves and causing, in this particular case, a man to abuse his daughter, played by Emma Watson. It’s up to the main police detective protagonist Ethan Hawke to protect the girl and get to the bottom of the truth of the devil worshipping cult versus a case of child abuse... aided by the equally watchable David Thewlis as a psychiatrist who specialises in hypnotic regression, whom Hawke calls in to help with the investigation. All three of these, plus their supporting cast, are turning in nicely sound performances but, I felt, both the story and the shot design lets them down big time.

The truth is... not only is there no devil worshipping cult... there’s no actual crime either. It’s all just hysteria created by outside influences on the mind and, as possibly hinted, false memories created by the hypnotic regression sessions intended to find the truth. So, despite the fact that there are some reasonable attempts at scary sequences where Hawke believes he is possibly being drugged and forced to take part in demonic rituals involving the slaughter and consumption of babies... it’s actually him just having nightmares and there’s really nothing much going on. So I guess, in some way, there is actually a twist ending to the movie... in that there’s just “nothing to see here... move along”.

To be fair, the actors do their best to capture the tensions and signs of hysteria that they are all thinking themselves into and you could say that there’s a parallel somewhere in this movie for the ‘Salem Witch Trials... or at least the version of them popularised by Arthur Miller in his play The Crucible. It just feels like by the end of the movie, metaphorically, everybody’s been dying to see what’s in an attractively decorated paper bag and, when someone opens it, they find the bag is completely empty, which explains why the bag is light enough to be able to fly around from one direction to another as any particular breeze takes it... there’s just not enough weight in it to keep it anchored. And in that analogy... the bag is the storyline. Which is a shame because, when you get a group of actors such as these, it almost feels like its a waste of their time to have participated in this one. Not a popular thing to say, to be sure, but this movie did leave me disappointed and less than entertained.

The editing combined with the camera work seemed a little less than remarkable too. There were some tracking shots and examples of moving camera but I did notice that this film did seem to be more comprised of static (or almost static) camera set ups which would play out for a few seconds before cutting to another shot and then returning to roughly the same angle as the first... but at a slightly different zoom or distance from the camera. There wasn’t as much use of master shots and moving the camera through them as I would have expected, to be honest, and the way in which various scenes were treated was obviously enough for my conscious mind to take note... the dullness of the shooting style did bring me out of the movie a bit, I think.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about Regression. It’s a film which seems to be mostly about performance in terms of having anything good going for it. The score by Roque Banos is okay and appropriate to the images but it didn’t strike me in the same special way that this composer’s Herrmannesque scores for The Machinist or The Oxford Murders (reviewed here) did, to be honest. It might be that it stands up better away from the film but I need to hear some album samples from this one, I think, before I’ll commit to a purchase. All in all, though, it’s not a film I’d recommend to any of my friends and certainly not one I’d bother to repeat watch anytime soon. If you want to go see a twisty turny horror film then I’d advise against this one because it just goes nowhere, ultimately and, even the journey to the ending, which is often as important, is less than interesting. Hardcore fans of the actors and actresses involved in this film may get something out of it but, honestly, it’s nothing special.