TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Eight – “The Lie of the Land”

“You’re Version Of Good Is Not Absolute. It’s Very Arrogant, Sentimental…”

Whilst both “Extremis” and “The Pyramid at the End of the World” were indeed both bold and exciting tales of science fiction wonder, their role as pre-cursor for this week’s episode heeds a huge sense of pressure on the concluding part of the story this week, one which needs to sustain its’ predecessors greatness in order to really conclude whether the trilogy has ultimately worked as a whole rather than falling under the weight of the sum of its’ parts. Thankfully, taking paranoid, dystopian cues from the likes of Orwell and highlighting notions of a controlled state which has been rife in cinematic entertainment for years, “The Lie of the Land” continues the courageous recent writings by offering a narrative which concludes the past few weeks’ story in an effective and well played manner, but one which too falls short of greatness due to some middling false steps. As with most of Capaldi’s reign as Doctor, his performance continues to cement my argument that his portrayal is the first real true contemporary incarnation of the “classic” mould of the travelling Time Lord, whilst Pearl Mackie’s Bill really has the opportunity to shine this week, proving to the naysayers that her inclusion this year is indeed one of the real stand-out positives of the series.

Whilst the threat of the Monks ultimately does come across as rather limited and anti-climactic, with the trilogy not entirely providing an effective stance of their ultimate show of power, the scene in which we witness soldiers heading into battle against the background of Bill’s recorded voice, one which acts as a blocker to the brainwashing power of the Monks. is superbly done. The lack of sustained threat however does ultimately resign the Monks to a limited memorability factor, with them not entirely hitting the standards of classic Who villains by any means and this negative attribute is one of the reasons why this particular trilogy doesn’t exactly transcend to any more than something which is brilliantly bold instead of the contemporary masterpiece I believe I think it wants to be. Whilst “Extremis” is still the best of the three episodes, the differing nature of each could arguably allow for future viewings without the need to see the entire trilogy, and whilst this is a good sign for moderate viewers of the show, the overarching success of the trilogy suffers from this, but as an individual episode, “The Lie of the Land” is effective enough to be regarded as a solid win.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Wonder Woman

“You Have Been My Greatest Love. Be Careful, Diana. They Do Not Deserve You…”

Whilst many audiences could be forgiven for experiencing a somewhat turgid time at the cinema within the summer period, suffering from a duo hit of remakes and sequels amidst an air of superhero fatigue, particularly within a year in which the two major forces in the form of DC and Marvel Comics are warring face to face in a contest which rivals the Battle of Helms Deep for sheer epic eventfulness, with more films than ever being released which focus on big-screen adaptations of everyone’s favourite literary heroes. Whilst Marvel waits on hold for the time being, with Spider-Man: Homecoming set for release next month, the ball is currently in DC’s court this week with the release of Wonder Woman, the fourth entry in the so-far much maligned DC Universe, but more importantly, the first real big-screen adaptation of the Amazonian Queen and the first superhero film since Elektra to be solely focused on a leading female character. Adding to the winning formula, Patty Jenkins, director of the Oscar winning serial killer drama Monster, takes the lead of a movie which holds so much in attempting to add a sense of integrity into a franchise which has been slowly dwindling in the shadow of Marvel’s many successes. Thankfully, Wonder Woman is indeed a winning return to form for DC, taking a brilliantly cast leading star and working with a script which adds an element of fun and adventure back into a series which has been sinking into the shallow depths of despair.

Whilst her introduction within the mighty mess of Batman V. Superman was overly rushed and ineffective, Wonder Woman perfectly crafts a backstory for a character who to most audiences may be completely alien, with WW possibly being the first time understanding the nature and background of such an infamous leading comic character. With Gal Gadot in the leading role, the DC Universe has finally hit the first mark in terms of casting, putting to shame recent debacles such as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luther and Jared Leto’s overly wasted Joker, with her physical ability and enviable natural screen presence adding organic depth to a character who is represented more than adequately in Gadot’s shoes. Pairing up with the always reliable Chris Pine, the narrative does reek somewhat of similarity at times however, using the first half of the movie to generate backstory whilst using the latter as a chance to once again conclude with a staggeringly dull CGI boss battle, yet the comedic element which rips throughout the dialogue is effective enough to combat a two hour plus running length, a decision perhaps primarily based upon Marvel’s successes in mixing action, drama and comedy within most of their many releases. If Wonder Woman is the direction in which the DC Universe is heading, sign me up for more, and whilst Jenkins doesn’t really offer anything particularly new to the superhero scene, the brilliance of Gadot in the leading role is the best thing DC has done since Nolan was around. No, it’s not The Dark Knight by a long shot, but Wonder Woman is still a success.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

“Find Jack Sparrow For Me And Relay A Message From Captain Salazar. Tell Him: Death Will Come Straight For Him…”

Praise be and grab your rum of choice, it is indeed that time once again. After believing that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise had sailed its’ last sail with On Stranger Tides, a third sequel to Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney’s flagship theme park based series swiftly returns this week with Salazar’s Revenge or perhaps, Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending on where exactly you will be spending your hard earned cash in order to witness the newest CGI orgy of famous actors dressing up like second year university students hitting the town and pretending to act serious when shouting “arghhh” and battling invisible, digitally created cannon fodder, all of whom are eager for disposal by death. Holding my frightfully cynical tone for a moment, the release of Salazar’s Revenge might controversially be the film which reinvents my opinion of the gargantuan series, and even with expectations as low as the depths of the pacific ocean, the addition of Norwegian directorial pair Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg alongside the ever reliable presence of Javier Bardem is a cause for cautious optimism, particular with the latter’s ability to carry off a damn fine villain when necessary. Inevitably, Salazar’s Revenge instead is yet just another CGI-fuelled bore-fest, one which trades set pieces for narrative and acting ability for budget costs within a skin peeling two hours which confirms the series has indeed sunk to the depths of mediocrity without any sign of resuscitation aboard.

Whilst the film centrally is based around the retrieval of a mysterious object which breaks every and any curse laced upon the many characters within the Pirates universe, Salazar’s Revenge also has to try and squeeze in the titular character’s quest for violent justice, with Javier Bardem’s CGI-masked villain setting his sights on the figure of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, a Captain Jack Sparrow who has seemingly worsened in every subsequent movie, resulting in a performance which has increasingly become a caricature of itself in an almost cringe-like fashion. With a script which is laced with cheesy and ear-grating dialogue, Depp has finally managed to confirm that his time in the spotlight as the world’s worst pirate must finally come to some sort of a dignified end, and whilst the inclusion of Orlando Bloom and a completely silent Keira Knightley could leave some fans jumping for joy, the return of their respective characters adds absolutely nothing to the overall enjoyment of the movie. Alongside some terrible sound editing and a complete lack of threat, Salazar’s Revenge is unsurprisingly a meaningless, dull affair, one which continues the woeful track record of blockbusters this year and a film which rivals David Beckham for worst cameo of the year so far. I mean, Paul McCartney, what are you thinking?

Overall Score: 3/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Seven – “The Pyramid at the End of the World”

“Do You Consent?”

Whilst the linchpin of Classic Doctor Who serials was a continual spread of episodes spread around the basis of one particular story, with the likes of “The War Games”, “Trial of a Time Lord” and “The Dalek’s Master Plan” each breaking the ten episode mark in order to completely fulfil their narrative wishes without any cause for constraint aside from a slight echo of inevitable bagginess. For contemporary Who audiences, the idea of one particular story playing over the course of months is a notion of indirect ignorance even if now and then we get an entire series which has a through-line of a narrative which attempts to link certain elements all together within stories which are primarily one-off and unrelated to the bigger picture, beginning with Bad Wolf all the way back in series one and carrying through with plot threads including the inclusion of Torchwood, the appearance of Harold Saxon and the cracks in time which cropped up across Matt Smith’s debut series. With “Extremis” last week, the continuation of that particular tale carries on this week with “The Pyramid at the End of the World” in a supposed trilogy of stories which will seemingly conclude next week, and whilst “Extremis” was an interesting precursor to the story ahead, does this weeks episode continue its’ groundwork success?

In a nutshell? Yes, and whilst the episode does include elements which are utterly preposterous and epic in stature, the bare bones of the story is rather straightforward and grounded, with The Doctor being at the centre of an impossible situation in which the separate parties around him each have differing points of view on survival. With the enemies once again being the creepy, robe wearing monks, their plan for world domination continues by using the one thing that forces any human being into rash decisions; fear, choosing the knowledge of foresight as the pawn in their domineering game of megalomania and control, whilst The Stand-esque subplot involving a mass outbreak of murderous biological material concludes with the Doctor’s sight returning for the time being, but at what cost? Although the twists and turns regarding Bill’s survival during her submission to the monks was rather obvious when it eventually occurred, the Doctor’s predicament when locked in the airlock with a detonating explosive device was effectively played, using the element of his blindness to a nerve-wracking degree which in the end has set up the play for the final endgame which is set to conclude next week. If ever there was evidence for supplying fans with longer stories into the future, these past two weeks are a strong chip to play with,

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Snatched

“What I Need Is An Amazing Adventure…”

In a world where American comedy is usually as effective as a chocolate teapot, Amy Schumer undeniably is up there with the worst that particular side of the continent has delivered over the course of the past few years, with her venture onto the big screen with releases such as Trainwreck burdening millions with her screechy Americanised tones and hysterically dull sensibility which really doesn’t compute with my idea of an effective comedic personality, particularly in a day and age in which memorable comedies are quite hard to find. Co-starring this week in Snatched with Hollywood legend Goldie Hawn, mother of Kate Hudson and partner to the awesomely cool Kurt Russell, Schumer once again proves that her particular brand of comedy just doesn’t work within the cinematic atmosphere, resulting in a performance which ultimately solidifies the notion of her inability to create laughs through a tired and cliche-ridden narrative which attempts to turn the vulgarity up to eleven in order to distract the audience from the utter boredom which encompasses the events on-screen. Goldie Hawn, what on Earth are you doing in this movie? I guess a gas bill must be due sometime soon. Ker-ching indeed.

After being dumped by her rock and roll boyfriend, Schumer’s unbelievably annoying leading character decides to make the most of her pre-planned trip to South America by inviting her feline-loving mother (Goldie Hawn) with a penchant for over-protection and questionable sculpturing techniques. Cue loud and completely unnecessary scenes of alcoholism, party music and nudity, Snatched is the type of 21st century so-called “comedy” which adds to the argument that the good times have most definitely come and gone in regards to its’ respective genre. Whilst Hawn seems to be there only for the sake of financial inducement, the film really doesn’t paint a sympathetic picture of its’ leading character, resulting in a warped sensibility which desires her captors to actually go through with their sickening plan and dispose of their prisoners as swiftly as possible. If this was indeed the case, the audience would have been spared from a 90 minute bore-fest whose only redeemable character is the poor U.S state department official who gets forced to help save their lives. Maybe next time mate, just forget the rescue and leave them to it.

Overall Score: 3/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Six – “Extremis”

“You Seem Like A Man With Regret On His Mind…”

When the opening titles roll and the words, “written by Steven Moffat” appear upon the screen amidst whirling noises of theremins and the eyebrows of the Twelfth Doctor, the unwitting desire to wonder whether the next 45 minutes will either be in the camp of superb recent episodes such as “Blink”, “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” and “Heaven Sent” or in the not-so-good area of stories such as “The Beast Below” and “The Bells of Saint John”. Whilst Capaldi does seem to get the best out of Moffat’s writing, due in part to an acting ability above the levels of which the mind can comprehend, this week’s episode, “Extremis”, is ultimately a lesser beast than the masterpieces Who fans have been treated to over the years but still a mindbogglingly brave and adventurous episode, the type of which is determined for the die-hard Who fans to watch much more than once in order to understand its’ complete complexities and impact on the season’s overall narrative endgame. Acting as a pre-cursor to the continuation of the story next week, “Extremis” answers an abundance of questions that have arisen from the series so far and unlike previous episodes, is a story primarily dedicated solely to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, something of which is rarely a missed opportunity.

With an episode which veers everywhere from the Vatican to the Oval Office, “Extremis” is an interesting experimental episode of Doctor Who which takes ques from previous episodes such as “Dark Water/Death In Heaven” in regards to the use of artificial intelligence and the notion of the finality of death not exactly coming full circle, whilst the episode’s main antagonists seem to cross wardrobes between the titular mummy from “Mummy on the Orient Express” and the Order of the Headless from “A Good Man Goes to War”, exposing skinless fingers from intergalactic portals and conveying their desires through a whispered tone of eeriness. At the centre of the narrative is the Veritas, a supposed cursed text which leads to the death of anyone who reads it and whilst the twist and importance of this particular element is definitely something of which I can safely say I didn’t see coming, it is hard to review “Extremis” as a singular episode because of the ambiguity of the ultimate conclusion which awaits us within the coming weeks. What “Extremis” does boast however is a interestingly spooky script and enough fan-pleasing elements to keep the majority of its’ audience hyped for what’s to come, even with the rather anti-climactic resolution of who indeed was the guest of the Doctor’s sacred vault.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

“I’m Not Getting Drawn Into This Mess! There’s An Army Of You, There’s Only One Of Me..!” 

Oh, Guy Ritchie. With a career which began with the promising flourish of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the independently made British gangster flick which not only launched the career of everyone’s favourite action star, Jason Statham, but was too a brilliantly audacious black comedy which included The Stone Roses on the soundtrack and Vinnie Jones as, well, Vinnie Jones, it seemed that ever since his much publicised mess of a marriage to Madonna, the “saviour” of all things cockney geezer went on an outstanding run of woeful cinematic failures, with the likes of Swept Away and Revolver being the two much maligned examples of Ritchie’s failed promise. One divorce later and middling return to success with the Robert Downey Jr. led Sherlock Holmes movies, of which I can state to not being a massive fan of due to the success of the BBC led series at the time, Guy Ritchie returns once again to the limelight with yet another big-screen adaptation of the legend of King Arthur, utilising the skills of Sons of Anarchy and The Lost City of Z star, Charlie Hunnam, in the titular leading role in a movie which is as barmy and OTT as it is messy and overblown. Some would call it Snatch in kilts; who I am I to disagree?

After the death of both father and mother at the hands of Jude Law’s power-hungry, megalomaniacal King Vortigern, Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur Pendragon is raised from child to man in the heart of a slumber town brothel, taking ques from the criminal fraternity around him in order to build a reputation and presence of power with an ultimate goal of leaving for a better and more prosperous life. A touch of a sword and an god-awful David Beckham cameo later, the long lost King of Camelot is finally arisen, bringing with it ear-grating dialogue, stupidly dull action sequences and a swarm of yawn-inducing special effects which turns the latter half of the movie into some form of lifeless video game. Among these many issues, Ritchie’s tenderness for the cockney geezer camaraderie is quite easily the worst element of the movie, with one scene in particular near the start of the movie in which our hero is forced to remember the day’s events via flashback coming across as a somewhat Lock, Stock/Snatch parody sketch which literally left me draw-dropped at how misjudged and awfully ludicrous it seemed. Even with all these obvious issues, Legend of the Sword is the type of movie which although at times is trying to say the least, does offer a sense of “so bad its’ good” in its’ wacky sensibility which works in tandem with the campy hiss, boo performance of Jude Law as the film’s main antagonist. Messy and narratively twisted, Ritchie’s interpretation of the mighty King himself is a cinematic raspberry, but when put up against the likes of Unlocked and Sleepless recently, is a slightly enjoyable raspberry.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Miss Sloane

“You Crossed The Line When You Stopped Treating People With Respect. You’re Smart Enough To Know That. You Just Don’t Care…”

When it comes to my favourite actors and actresses of recent times, the iconic and wholly reliable face of Jessica Chastain is always a healthy sight to behold, due in part to her lavish and totally envious good looks (Healthy celebrity crush incoming) but of course mainly down to a wide range of countless superb performances in films such as her outstanding leading role in Zero Dark Thirty, Christopher Nolan’s science fiction masterpiece Interstellar and Terrence Malick’s slightly baffling, yet undeniably beautiful The Tree of Life, all of which have quickly turned Chastain into one of Hollywood’s most productive and bankable leading stars.  With the release of Miss Sloane this week, the latest from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel director John Madden, Chastain once again is given the freedom to flex her incredibly versatile acting muscles, taking a tightly wound grip of leading character Elizabeth Sloane, an esteemed and frighteningly determined US lobbyist, and completely taking control within the confines of a narrative which is as gripping as it is infectiously ludicrous where although the movie’s shark-jumping conclusion does threaten to ruin the smartly positioned groundwork which precedes it, is undoubtedly an enjoyable and vigorously entertaining political ride.

With a script from first time writer Jonathan Perera, one which moves along ever so efficiently and robustly and one which inevitably nods its’ head to a wide range of modes of political escapism including the likes of House of Cards and The West Wing, the titular character of Elizabeth Sloane is indeed a cold and calculated amalgamation of Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood and Peter Capaldi’s conniving and spidery spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, in the masterful Armando Iannucci led, The Thick of It, slipping her hands into a rafter of political pies in order to achieve what she desires most. Supported by the likes of Mark Strong, Michael Stuhlbarg and Belle star, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Madden’s film travels between elements of tension, comedy and tight-knit drama, occupying a much needed space in the vacuum of below-par movies I have suffered in these last few weeks, and whilst the concluding act in which genetically configured insects and a cop-out resolution does come across way too immature and silly when considering the fundamental subject matter, Miss Sloane is a highly entertaining political drama which reinforces Jessica Chastain as the person you need to take your movie up an entire critical level.

Overall Score: 8/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Five – “Oxygen”

“You Sent Out A Distress Call, You Should Be Expecting Company…”

When half of the population of the UK tuned into BBC One last night to get ready for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest, they probably would have witnessed a concluding scene of this week’s Doctor Who which left our time travelling hero in a state which can only be regarded as less than desired after a 45 minute science fiction spectacle which mixed in elements of horror, capitalism and a very rare sense of unapologetic threat which put our leading heroes in one of the toughest situations of the series so far. With (SPOILERS INCOMING) our beloved Time Lord suffering from the effects of being exposed to the vacuum of space in order to save Bill from a similar or even worse fate, “Oxygen”, written by Jamie Mathieson, the creative mind behind two of Series 8’s best episodes in the form of “Flatline” and “Mummy on the Orient Express”, served up the most thrilling story yet, placing our leading trio within the confines of a claustrophobic future space station where the crew have been replaced with a literal incarnation of the walking dead and the oxygen levels are determined by wealth rather than the importance of the human life. Cue a distress beacon and an eagerly excited Doctor, “Oxygen” proves that Mr. Mathieson is one of the leading writers of the moment when it comes to contemporary Who.

Directed by Who veteran Charles Palmer, “Oxygen” is arguably the most beautifully shot episode of the series so far, with the set design and outside shots of space a real positive of the episode, highlighting how far Doctor Who has come since the days of rubber Sea Devils and hokey dinosaur special effects. Whilst not directly the main villains of the episode, the scenes in which our heroes are being stalked by the deceased corpse’s of the station’s previous occupants is eerily effective, taking cues from previous Who episodes such as Series 9’s “Under the Lake” and “Sleep No More” whilst the narrative structure of the Doctor being trapped aboard a lonely vessel is a blueprint of which many of the classic Who tales are wholly indebted to, particularly “The Ark in Space” and one of my personal classic serials in the form of “The Caves of Androzani”. When the concluding twist does arrive, the notion of the Doctor’s blindness is an interesting development, particularly with the upcoming regeneration not exactly far off, and in a similar vein to Peter Davison’s regeneration within his final story, Capaldi’s incarnation could be set for a slow burning regeneration within a series which continues to impress.

Overall Score: 8/10  

Film Review: Unlocked

“You Asked Me How Far I Would Go To Protect My Country. Whatever It Takes…”

It comes across wholly ironic that in a week in which we see the big budget release of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and a sequel in which does not include the wholly reliable face of Noomi Rapace who declined to participate, that the Swedish born actress turns up in Unlocked, an action-packed spy thriller directed by Michael Apted, perhaps most famous for the Pierce Brosnan led The World is Not Enough, and the type of movie which belongs entirely within the realms of straight-to-DVD mediocrity. Of course, the coincidental notion of these two films being released side by side might not mean anything whatsoever, but in terms of further advancing the career of Rapace, it doesn’t exactly compute why such an esteemed actress chose Apted’s laughably poor action raspberry of a movie rather than the Ridley Scott led sci-fi epic, a movie which although is nowhere near a masterpiece in its’ own right, when put up against Unlocked comes across as some kind of 21st century work of art. With a cast which indeed includes the likes of Rapace, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas and Orlando Bloom, yes, Orlando Bloom, Unlocked does boast an incredibly strong payroll but with a narrative which is woeful as it is unintentionally hilarious, Apted’s latest is perhaps the least enjoyable time I’ve had with an action flick since, well, last week’s Sleepless. Not exactly a strong week for films.

After stumbling into a double crossing, trust bending, terrorism plot, Noomi Rapace’s shock-filled London based CIA agent is thrown violently back into the fold, shooting her way through building after building in order to establish the real play-makers behind a massive biological threat. Cue exposition galore, over-dramatic cameo performances and plot strands which edge of the side of cinematic malpractice, Apted’s real ace in the hole comes in the form of Orlando Bloom who appears half way through the action, conveying the tattooed, grungy, untrustworthy ex-jarhead who enters with a gold pass into the hall of worst cockney accents ever alongside Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke who are there to keep him company in the ways of mastering the voice of the East-End. Not only does Bloom win the award for worst cameo of the year so far, his character ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the extent that his existence is some form of contractual agreement to allow Bloom to garner a quick pay check after seemingly disappearing into thin air over the past few years. Unlocked is obviously awful, and although the narrative does threaten to entertain around the twenty minute mark, Apted fails to hold such attentive themes and constructs an action flick so poor that you pray for the likes of Gareth Evans to direct every action movie ever from now on.

Overall Score: 3/10