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Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

“It’s Our Mission That Doesn’t Make Sense, Sir…”

With French filmmaker Luc Besson not succeeding in making a decent movie since the 1990’s when it comes to directing, the array of fingers which he has managed to stick into a wide range of cinematic pies including The Transporter and Taken series, means that particular film companies still feel the need to finance certain projects which stem from the mind of a man who continues to live off the success of his earlier and much more impressive bodies of work, of which Nikita and Léon still remain the standout features. With his latest release of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week, aside from having arguably the most arduous and stupidest film title in recent memory, Besson’s return to science fiction brings with it a relative amount of caution, particularly when the finished product could either be the silly, blockbuster fun of The Fifth Element or the idiotic, laziness of a film such as Lucy, and whilst there is no doubting that Valerian is filled to the rafters with a mountain of issues and quandaries, Besson’s latest is the type of movie which you begin to hate from the outset but then slowly edge through acceptance, excitement and enjoyment as the film reaches its’ long-awaited conclusion. Valerian is stupid, nonsensical and completely bonkers, but boy, I didn’t half enjoy it.

Although the screenplay is primarily based upon the French science fiction comic series, Valérian and Laureline, there is no doubting the visual splendour of the film takes cues from a wide variety of movies from fantasy cinematic history, and whilst it comes across as lazy to simply paint Valerian as a Star Wars rip-off, the sandy plains of the opening act and the introduction of characters that so clearly resemble famous faces from a galaxy far, far away is strikingly undeniable, even when the film effectively manages to be designed in such a superbly crafted fashion it’s impossible to not applaud the creative process behind it. With the visuals so flashy and impressively detailed, the cheddar-cheese dialogue and questionable acting does manage to be somewhat overlooked, even when Cara Delevingne manages to act almost everyone off the screen including leading co-star Dane DeHaan whose montone affinity results in him coming across as a next-generation Keanu Reeves cast-off, and with a narrative as bonkers and fundamentally confusing as the one at the centre of it, Valerian is that rare case of a movie being so wrong it’s right, and whilst I may be in the minority when the dust eventually settles, Besson’s latest isn’t a masterpiece by any measure, it’s just ridiculous, braindead fun.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

“I Did Not Start This War. I Offered You Peace. I Showed You Mercy. But Now You’re Here. To Finish Us Off. For Good…”

Although the original Planet of the Apes movies are films in which I can apologetically state I have never, ever seen, with not even the woefully panned, Mark Wahlberg starring Tim Burton version being at the forefront of my mind in terms of movie catch-up, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a thrillingly satisfactory reinvention of the famous franchise, using the motion performance mastery of Andy Serkis in creating arguably the most effective digital character of the 21st century in Caesar, (Yes, I know, Gollum is probably more iconic) resulting in a duo hit rate of success with both critics and audiences and ultimately leading to where we are today. After continuing the success of Rise with the Matt Reeves directed, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an adventurous, if rather flawed blockbuster sequel, Reeves returns this week with War for the Planet of the Apes, a third instalment of the Apes franchise before setting out and directing that film about that geezer in a cape who likes bats. With spectacle in abundance and an emotional yet wholly bleak narrative at its’ core, War is the best of the 21st century Apes franchise so far, combining perfect and sometimes staggering motion capture with top-notch performances and an array of cinematic nods which result in Matt Reeves offering the most effective slice of blockbuster brilliance so far this year.

Following on from the events of Dawn in which the Human/Ape battle is entirely in full swing due to the actions of the treacherous Koba, War begins with a particularly spectacular opening set piece, one which sets the dark and violent tone for the narrative ahead and one which builds the foundations of Caesar’s decision making in his battle against the psychopath figure of Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel. Whilst the 12A rating will open the film up to an extended audience, including the possibility of kids, War is no means a completely joyous ride, with the narrative undeniably melancholic and sometimes masochistic in its’ portrayal of the conflict between the two opposing sides, whilst the death count on-screen rivals pretty much any top-end blockbuster release within recent years or so, yet with so much darkness and dread encompassing the story, the concluding act feels almost like a substantial reward for an audience who feels every inch of the pain our leading ape has to go through in order to save both his family and his race. With winking nods to films such as The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now, with the latter’s influence clearly stated halfway through the action, War is boosted by the quite brilliant digital effects, effects which completely have you believing in the fictional characters on-screen and effects which showcase once again Andy Serkis for the genius he undeniably is. Grimy, grungy and gargantuan in scale, War is an excellent example of a character-based blockbuster and a movie which is made with such care and intelligence, you leave the cinema only wanting more.

Overall Score: 8/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Twelve – “The Doctor Falls”

“It’s Where We’ve Always Been Going, And It’s Happening Now, Today. It’s Time To Stand With The Doctor…”

Three years after venturing into my local cinema in order to witness the first ever Peter Capaldi led Doctor Who episode in the form of “Deep Breath”, the brilliantly creepy yet somewhat divisive opening for the Twelfth Doctor, here we are reviewing the final ever regular series episode featuring perhaps my favourite incarnation of the travelling time lord since Jon Pertwee. How time flies. With the brilliance of last week’s episode setting the basis for the overall narrative of “The Doctor Falls”, what we have this week is a melancholic, fan-pleasing conclusion to a series which although lacked the consistency and sometimes perfection of Series Nine, was a solidly effective run, one which tapped into the classic sense of what a show such as Doctor Who truly offers and one which gave us some flashing moments of what we are set to miss after Capaldi’s tenure is ultimately over. Whereas last week’s episode was flawed somewhat by a ridiculous need from the BBC to over-publicise the high-profile events before the episode even aired, the twists and turns this week were more than effective, using a face from the past in the episode’s concluding moments to emphasise truly the wondrous nature of the greatest science fiction series ever.

Whilst the body-horror infliction of the Mondasian Cybermen from last week’s episode completely evaporates in favour of more daring set pieces and screen-filling explosions, their usage is still incredibly eerie, particularly within the scene in which the effects flick back and forth between the Mondasian Bill and the human Bill, building on a characterisation period throughout the series which has seen Pearl Mackie come forth as perhaps one of the standout companions of the modern era. With plot threads and series long arcs being put to bed, including the resolution of the Master/Missy timeline, the finale truly belongs to Peter Capaldi’s performance, one which mixes the inevitably of death from Peter Davison’s regeneration story “The Caves of Androzani” alongside the reluctance of passing from Tennant’s change-up during “The End of Time”, and boy does it pull on the heartstrings. Whereas many have seen Capaldi’s tenure as a mixed bag of ups and downs in terms of consistency, I believe the past few years have seen the first real classic interpretation of the Doctor since the Tom Baker years and with the Christmas special to come alongside a very, very special guest, one can and can’t wait for the Christmas special, an episode which although will see the end of a superb Doctor will also offer the opportunity to perhaps see Capaldi at his finest. See you in five months.

Overall Episode Score: 9/10

Overall Season Score: 7.4/10

Film Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

“The Imminent Destruction Of All We Know And Love, Begins Now…”

Whilst overly long blockbuster movies are indeed not exactly anything original, it does take the patience of a saint to be able to sit through and enjoy most of Michael Bay’s most recent cinematic exploits, and whilst The Rock and Bad Boys prove that sometimes Bay does manage to create something which although is undeniably stupid, is too a whole bunch of fun, his annoyingly pompous stamp on the Transformers series proves without a doubt that fame and fortune is the only thing on the mind of its’ creators, particularly when the series just doesn’t seem to be slowing down in terms of worldwide and domestic gross. Clocking in at a staggering 149 minutes however, a runtime which is actually generously measured when put up against previous Transformers entries, The Last Knight is stated by both Bay and leading star Mark Wahlberg to be the final entry into the CGI-fuelled, overlong, action franchise and with that in mind, there is a sense of joy heading into the cinema knowing that this may indeed be the last time to witness Bay’s live action interpretation of Hasbro’s famous plastic toy range. Unfortunately, yet rather inevitably, The Last Knight is not exactly a movie which can classed as anything remotely joyful, with Bay successfully managing to create the most insipid, boring and woeful excuse for a blockbuster in years. Wait a second while I just clear my tinnitus.

Although narrative and plot are never usually at the forefront of most Transformers movies, The Last Knight actually revels in the fact that there simply isn’t a story to be told. Whilst something about King Arthur, Merlin and some ancient, historic sword attempts to linchpin the movie together, Bay’s latest makes Batman v. Superman look like a picture-book example of coherent A to B storytelling, with the movie too often more interested in endless explosions and placid CGI to really offer anything for the audience to really sink their emotional teeth into. Aside from a woeful narrative, epileptic editing and a cash-hungry supporting cast including the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins, The Last Knight suffers from two inexcusable elements which simply make the film a painful exercise of patience. Firstly, the length. Not many films earn the right to be 150 minutes plus and whilst The Last Knight may be one of the shorter Transformers offerings, my sweet lord do you feel every single second of its’ sheer awfulness, with each passing minute ripping your soul apart as you slowly lose hope in the future of cinema as we know it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the 12A rating slapped onto the movie encourages kids to go and see it, albeit with their parents, and whilst the action and spectacle may keep many wildly entertained, the constant use of unnecessary expletives and ripe sexual references make this supposed “kids” movie a poison chalice of misjudgement, and a movie which although may succeed in taking shed loads of money, will surely not satisfy even the most hardcore of Transformers fans. An explosive mess of a movie, The Last Knight is worthy of complete avoidance. Don’t take the risk.

Overall Score: 2/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Ten – “The Eaters of Light”

“Time To Grow Up. Time To Fight Your Fight…”

Whilst the notion of centurions within Doctor Who automatically resorts to times gone by within the era of Matt Smith, this weeks’ episode featured a budding mystery regarding the fate of the Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman Army amidst a narrative which featured too a time-splitting leading alien entity and an incredibly talkative creepy crow. Isn’t science fiction great? Penned by Rona Munro, a writer already well-versed in the ways of all things Time Lord, with her previous works including the Sylvester McCoy led episode “Survival”, the final Classic Who story to air on the BBC until its’ return all the way back in 2005, “The Eaters of Light” is a passably fun tale of adventure, one which comes across as a surreal amalgamation between the BBC-ran adventure series Raven and the portal-weaving adventures within Stargate, but too a tale which feels ever so slightly underwhelming at times to really be considered anything other than just a precursor to much more interesting developments which are set to unravel within next weeks penultimate episode, adding to a year of stories which have been solid enough, but lack in a certain amount of wonder in comparison to the critical acclaim of Series Nine.

With events taking place in the homeland of Capaldi, it comes as no surprise that the inclusion of an abundance of fellow Scots results in an array of Scottish-targeted quips. most of which are expertly managed by the straightforward tone of Capaldi’s take on the travelling Time Lord, and whilst the underlying true-to-life mystery at the heart of the story laid down a possible interesting narrative, “The Eaters of Light” is ironically the most straight-forward tale of good vs. evil so far this series. Aided by an array of slightly dull secondary characters, Munro’s script does ultimately come across as slightly pre-21st century Doctor Who at times, with the cliched plot one in which I struggled to really engage with and whilst the design of the titular monsters is interesting enough, the threat in which they pose is minimal to say the least. Throw into the mix some shady and rather cringe-laden CGI, “The Eaters of Light” is not means a terrible episode, it just lacks the invention and spark of many which have preceded it.

Overall Score: 5/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode Nine – “The Empress of Mars”

“That’s Not Just Any Tomb. This Is The Tomb Of The Ice Queen…”

Ah, the Ice Warriors. Those awfully designed, avocado shaped, freezer magnets. Whilst many contemporary Who fans would have been made aware of their existence in the slightly better than average, Matt Smith-led “Cold War” back in Series Seven, their history through the Whoniverse begins all the way back within Patrick Troughton’s stint in the late 1960’s, with their second appearance within “The Seeds of Death” arguably being the biggest fan-favourite episode in which they are the primary antagonist of the piece. Returning this week and facing battle with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in “The Empress of Mars”, the Ice Warriors are moulded into submission by constant Moffat companion Mark Gatiss who returns as a guest scriptwriter, following on from Series 9’s fan dividing episode “Sleep No More” and whilst many are aware of Gatiss’s love for all things Doctor Who, the multi-talented sci-fi geek is behind a script which although is pleasing in many aspects, also suffers from a slight feel of anti-climax, particularly in regards to the trio of episodes most recently, and whilst Gatiss’s work on Doctor Who has never really been consistently excellent, “The Empress of Mars” is arguably the weakest episode of the series so far, if remaining to the motif of a more “classic Who” feel which has been more than rife throughout this year’s series.

Whilst Matt Lucas’s Nardole is once again cast out as side-companion, appearing only at the beginning and end of the story, Pearl Mackie is once again a real treat to be seen at Capaldi’s side, offering quick, infectious quips when necessary and holding a sense of ingrained humanity when comparing her outrageous situation to the likes of famous science fiction movies. At the heart of the narrative, the titular female leader of the Ice Warriors can only be regarded as somewhat of a major letdown, one whose one-dimensional characterisation lacks a complete sense of threat even when shooting funky lazer beams at endless cannon fodder who are transformed into anatomy defying squares of death. Whilst the endgame of the story is simple enough for even the youngest of minds, Gatiss does make up for a mediocre script with a concluding scene which links in the previous appearances of the Ice Warriors in the best fan-pleasing way possible when as soon as the high-pitched voice of Alpha Centauri was heard, my heart was won completely over and my mind was thrown back to the Pertwee years, a winning formula whenever when considering Pertwee remains my favourite Doctor to this very day. This week’s episode was good enough but still remains the weakest of the series so far. Maybe next time Gatiss.

Overall Score: 6/10

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

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

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

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