Sunday 29 November 2015

Doctor Who - Heaven Sent

A Gallifrey Your Thoughts

Doctor Who - Heaven Sent
UK Airdate: 28th November 2015

Warning: Yeah, there are some hefty spoilers here, I guess.

Ha. Okay, so judging from my Twitter timeline last night, this episode was fairly divisive in its reception and appreciation. It seemed, by the looks of it, to be a particularly ‘Marmite’ episode, with some people absolutely hating it, giving up on the show and calling for a return to the fun and excitement of former years while others in my timeline seem to be saying it was one of the best pieces of television broadcasting in recent memory.

Okay, all of that is all very nice but I’m afraid I didn’t get such a big hit from it either way, to be honest. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. It was an okayish episode and it wasn’t terrible... certainly not as bad as the last two at any rate. Also, I think I can understand what Steven Moffat, who is the series show runner and who wrote this one, is trying to do with this latest series in general and this episode in particular.

That is to say, the show seems to have become a little less relevant in recent years with the ratings going down slightly and with a lot of people jumping ship towards the end of Matt Smith’s era and into Capaldi’s. The show from two weeks ago, Sleep No More (reviewed here) for instance, had the lowest ‘appreciation index’ score for the programme in quite a number of years. So I’m guessing as a writer/producer you have to stir things up and what better way to do this than make Doctor Who a bit dark and scary again. Now I know Moffat has a very good memory of the history of the show and I would be really surprised if he and his co-conspirators weren’t trying for an episode here which hits exactly the same kind of tone of the old, and very controversial in its day, Tom Baker story The Deadly Assassin. That story got some complaints against it (not least from Mary Whitehouse) and helped seal the reputation of Doctor Who as being... well... too scary for kids. For the record here... there’s not much in fiction that’s too scary for kids, in all honesty. If you can’t be scared of something when you’re a young ‘un then when can you be? It’s the only way to toughen yourself up to life, I believe. Or, at least, one of the easiest... let those nightmares come and then conquer them forever.

So, yeah, I think this episode was a deliberate harkening back to hitting some of the beats of The Deadly Assassin... something which I was pretty sure he was doing on the opening of the first story this season, The Magician’s Apprentice (reviewed here). Interesting, also, that The Doctor lost the company of a companion just before The Deadly Assassin took place too so... yeah, I suspect there’s a lot of thought about how this season sits in terms of the history of the show. I may be wrong but... it’s my theory at the moment and, frankly, it doesn’t matter too much either way, as long as it gets people talking about the show again.

Heaven Sent is a bit of an experiment in terms of its content, for sure, with a very small cast. It’s essentially a one hander but, of course, we also have Jenna Coleman playing a manifestation of The Doctor’s mind as his recently deceased (maybe) companion Clara, and a monster figure and a young Gallifreyan boy. It’s very much a tour de force for Capaldi as an actor... but nothing we don’t already know he’s capable of, to be fair. We already know he’s a brilliant actor and he’s certainly a brilliant Doctor, whether the stories are any good or not. The trouble with this one, though, is that it’s so focussed on solving the ‘mystery’ at the heart of the story without any real distractions from the problem at hand, being as it’s essentially a one man show... no bickering with newcomers, no space battles or much running around in corridors (lots of shambling in corridors but, you know, the pace is down a notch) that the real problem with tackling a story like this reveals itself fairly easily. That is to say, once you’ve figured out how long The Doctor has been there and what the key to the story is... it’s all over and you’re just waiting for the central protagonist to catch up with you. Which, in this case, is maybe 15 minutes into the story tops? Once you’ve seen the skulls in the bottom of the ocean which all look exactly the same, you will have probably figured out that they were all The Doctor and, when you see the spare clothes drying by the lit fire, you can probably figure out who left them there for The Doctor... in fact, you see him do it.

So yeah, it’s an interesting idea and I’m very glad that Moffat tried it but, since we’ve known forever that Gallifrey was gong to return in this series, it’s not too hard to figure out what was going on (and if you cast your mind back to hte late 1970s, parts of The Deadly Assassin were set ‘in The Doctor’s mind’, so to speak, on Gallifrey).  The one thing it did take me a while to see was the gradual chipping down of The Doctor’s escape from his ‘confession disc’. The reason I didn’t quite see that coming until 5 - 10 minutes before it happened, and was still a bit iffy on the premise, is because we were told that all the rooms were resetting themselves to exactly what they were when The Doctor arrived (and keeps arriving) every day... so wouldn’t the wall reset itself too, don’t you think? Just a thought.

The episode does bring back another common element of the modern Doctor Who series though, which was originally perpetrated by Russel T. Davies in David Tennant’s last regular year on the show but which is something which Steven Moffat has run with for a while and, given the nature of the show over it’s 52 years, to date... I’m surprised it’s only in the last few years that this idea has been greatly touched upon. The element I’m talking about is... the long game. The times when we see The Doctor and he’s been in the same incarnation but there’s been a gap of hundreds or more years since we last saw him. Tennant’s incarnation went a bit loopy and ran off for years at one point after he lost Donna and Moffat’s been using that ingredient of ‘the character who takes the long way around’ quite a bit since. It’s almost become a bit of a signature for him on the show. Examples would include Amy Pond, the girl who waited decades for her second meeting with The Doctor in The Eleventh Hour (reviewed here) and even longer than that when she was trapped in that alternate timeline in The Girl Who Waited (reviewed here), Rory in The Big Bang (reviewed here and don’t get me started on that whole Pandorica thing again), River Song as a youngster in the opening scenes of Let’s Kill Hitler (reviewed here), Matt Smith prior to the events of The Snowmen (after losing Amy and Rory, reviewed here) and even Capaldi himself quite recently in Before The Flood (reviewed here). And more times than I can remember, I suspect. So yeah, once again we have The Doctor taking the long way around... this time by way of over a million days in which he dies at the end of each one... and they really padded that repeat montage out just way longer than was necessary for pretty much any audience comprehension, I believe, but who am I to argue.

And there you have it. We’re back on Gallifrey, wherever it was hidden, and I am really expecting to see Clara again at some point during the next episode. Also kinda hoping to see John Simm’s back as The Master so we can finally see him regenerate into Missy as we know him now but... I’m guessing that won’t be happening anytime soon. The other thing is... Moffat’s guilty of a little revisionism on the show here. The Doctor as ‘the hybrid’ is not such a big problem to me as it might be to some long term fans, to be sure, but the fact that this possibly contradicts the knowledge that The Master is The Doctor’s brother does rankle me a little. So we shall see how this is handled... presumably next week. Other than that though, not much to say other than I stand by my judgement that this wasn’t a great episode but neither was it a poor one. I think next week will really either be quite spectacular on it’s follow up or... possibly just go the way of most of the previous Smith and Capaldi season finales and be... well... a bit of a let down. No worries... time will tell. I’m really looking forward to catching up with River Song again in this year’s Christmas special so... not that fussed about the finale at the moment.

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.