I was feeling a bit poorly (or perhaps I should say pawly) the other week, and as is often the case at such times I ended up sprawled in front of the TV mindlessly watching whatever was on for two days. It happened to coincide with half-term, and children’s satellite/cable channel Boomerang seemed to obsessed for the week with Scooby-Doo! cartoons.
Now I admit, Scooby-Doo! was one of my first big favourites shows as a kid, when I was about four or five. Its blend of mystery solving and horror/monsters pretty much still to this day sums up my genre preferences, after all. As far as being under the weather is concerned, this was perfect – a golden opportunity to revisit my childhood.
I hadn’t realised that there had been so many iterations of the show over the years: the one I remember with the most nostalgia is the original 1969 series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? which ran eternally in the BBC early evening children’s slot even though there were only ever 25 episodes. This set up the basic format of the show and its main characters: Scooby the great Dane, his cowardly owner Shaggy, and the rest of the Mystery, Inc. team – Fred, Daphne and Velma. However these episodes do now show their age, especially with painful 60s and 70s hippyish references, and the stories can best be described as ‘basic’ with the culprit unmasked at the end sometimes never having been seen in the episode till then. Continue reading
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier has the notorious reputation of being hands-down the worst Star Trek movie of all time. It’s said to be so bad, in fact, that I don’t think I’ve ever watched it a second time after originally seeing it in the cinemas at the time of its release nearly 24 years ago. That has allowed my memories of how poor it is to fester, grow and multiply over the intervening years. That is until this week, when I had a strange moment of … I won’t say weakness, let’s just say unguarded curiosity to see whether it really was as bad as its reputation would have us believe.
The good news: it’s not the total unmitigated catastrophe that it had established itself in my memory as being. There are even some good moments in it. And it’s certainly no where near as awful and unlikeable as, say, the corresponding fifth movie in the Die Hard franchise turned out to be. In fact you might say that it would make a middling episode of the original TV series’ third and final season (which as true fans will know is indeed damning with faint praise.)
The bad news: it’s still unbelievably poor. It’s dull, witless, poorly written, weakly directed, tonally uneven with a disinterested cast and the worst effects of the series and indeed pretty much of any mainstream science fiction film of the late eighties. It justifiably has a total lock on the title of ‘worst Star Trek movie’ and always will. Continue reading
Posted in Film
Tagged Blu-ray, David Warner, DeForest Kelly, George Takei, James Doohan, Laurence Luckinbill, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Sybok, William Shatner
Contains full spoilers for the final episode.
I reviewed the first episode of The Fall when it aired last month and have no intention of going over the same ground, but in light of some of the critical comments made about the final episode of the first series I thought I’d come back with a (relatively) shorter piece focusing just on the finale.
We’ve had a lot of brilliant crime shows of late that have stumbled at the very end – all three series of Forbrydelsen suffered from problematic conclusions, and even Broadchurch’s much ballyhooed last episode has similarly come under fire from those who expected more. With The Fall, viewers wanted either a resounding, satisfying climax to the current case in which the bad guy is caught, or else a major cliffhanger to put them on the edge of their seats for the next few months before the now-confirmed season 2.
The problem is that the producers themselves didn’t know if they were going to get a second season or not, so they had to make a final episode that could work equally both as climax/resolution and as cliffhanger/to-be-continued with just minor changes depending on what the network verdict turned out to be. (And when the very first episode set new records for a drama début on BBC2 the decision was not long in coming nor much in doubt.) Continue reading
I know, I’m coming very late to this particular party, but for some reason I never caught on to the BBC series Luther when it originally aired in 2010. Maybe I was busy doing something else, or perhaps the promotional campaign at the time simply didn’t appeal to me in that it looked like just another story of a troubled maverick cop breaking all the rules in his obsessive hunt for justice.
Having missed the first series entirely (and then naturally felt stepping straight into season 2 wasn’t a good idea) it’s taken a first-time re-run on the UK TV Alibi channel to finally get me to watch – and make me an instant convert.
What an excellent series. And the reason for just how good it is can be summed up in just two names – Idris Elba and Neil Cross, respectively star and creator/writer of the show. Elba of course made his name by being so impressive as part of the ensemble line-up in the already overwhelmingly brilliant The Wire, but here he’s given for want of a better description a star vehicle, a show completely built up around what he can do inhabiting a single character central stage. Continue reading
I knew that the reviews had been bad, but wow – they didn’t prepare me for just how bad A Good Day to Die Hard actually was.
It’s a lumbering, brainless, mean-spirited hulk of a movie (it would be misogynistic as well if it even bothered to have any significant female characters in it) and a desecration for all those who – like me – loved the original Die Hard movies. While there had been a gentle decline in the quality of the franchise over the years, this one completely jumps over the cliff edge. It makes the previous entry (Die Hard 4.0 a.k.a. Live Free Or Die Hard) look like a heartbreaking work of staggering genius by comparison.
Where once Bruce Willis’ John McClane was a quick-witted funny guy, a personable everyman with guile and a simple determination to do the right thing, save his family and face down the bad guys no matter how badly he’s outnumbered, here he’s like a punch-drunk fighter who can’t wait to get in the ring and start swinging, shouting, hitting and shooting people even before he has any clue of who’s who, what they’re doing or what’s going on. He’ll go halfway round the world to get into this latest scrap, and when anyone looks like saying, “Okay, that’s enough, we should stop now,” he’s the one urging them on to the next act of mass destruction rather than simply sticking to trying to get himself and his loved ones out alive. Continue reading
Tom Baker might be the ‘definitive article’ as the Doctor, and David Tennant for me the best actor to have played the role (with the dearly departing Matt Smith a commendably close runner-up) but as far as I’m concerned my emotional ‘favourite’ actor in the role will forever be the the one who was in the role when I first watched the show as a young child – Jon Pertwee.
“Inferno” was the final serial from Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor and is the story after “The Ambassadors of Death”, which I reviewed about seven months ago when it made its bow on DVD. This was very much an experimental, transitionary year for the show as new producer Barry Letts decided to make it more serious, realistic and Earth-bound, and the Doctor closer to a Quatermass figure than the cosmic hobo of yesteryear. For me this produced one of the best-ever years of Classic Who with some top-notch stories, and judging from the way that current showrunner Steven Moffat has riffed off themes, ideas and even aliens from that year’s serials I’d say I’m not alone.
However the format change did soon develop a very big problem: take away the TARDIS and the Doctor’s ability to go anywhere in the universe and things can get very repetitive very quickly. In “Inferno” for example, we have a misguided piece of cutting edge science go disastrously wrong and unleash a deadly danger from primordial times from deep within the earth that threatens to wipe out all life as we know it. Sound familiar? It would have done at the time, since just two months previously the Doctor had been encountering the Silurians for the first time in very similar circumstances. Continue reading
Not, I should immediately make clear, by the story and events of “The Name of the Doctor”, the series finale of the extended staccato season 7 of Doctor Who. As has so often been the case with Steven Moffat’s work down the years, what appeared at the outset to be brain-scrambling head-twister of a puzzle is by the end almost charmingly simple and straight-forward by the time it’s explained – and I mean that as a sincere compliment, an example of the craft of writing at its highest level.
Most of us had already figured out that the secret to Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) was that she had somehow been ‘split up’ and scattered (“like confetti”, as the show itself described it) across all of time and space in a manner akin to the fate of the last of the Jagaroth from the classic serial “City of Death”; all that this new episode did was provide the mechanism for how this did indeed come to happen, and why it was that the Doctor kept running across her. It was not coincidence, it turned out, but an essential part of the design – no accident but rather completely unavoidable. Continue reading
Posted in Television
Tagged alex kingston, Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey, doctor who, Jenna-Louise Coleman, John Hurt, matt smith, Neve McIntosh, Richard E Grant, river song, steven moffat, Strax, The Name of the Doctor, Vastra
Apologies, I’m a week behind watching this series and although episode 2 aired last night as I write and post this, I’ve only seen the first episode so far. Even so, I still wanted to pen a few words on it before the series went too far into its run for people to decide whether or not to jump on board. This post does contain spoilers for episode 1, but not beyond.
This is a new five-part psychological thriller by writer-producer Allan Cubitt (Prime Suspect 2, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Runaway) that takes the serial killer crime procedural into welcome new territory, both in a storytelling and geographical sense. Set in Belfast, there are echoes of the time euphemistically referred to as ‘The Troubles’ but refreshingly these are neither the point nor the focus of the story that unfolds.
Instead, the series follows two characters, both of them outsiders but in very different ways. DSI Stella Gibson is from the Metropolitan Police, asked in by her counterparts in Northern Ireland to conduct a review of a murder case that’s gone cold despite having a high profile victim, a successful young architect who was also the former daughter-in-law of a Unionist MP – which immediately suggests political pressures will apply. Continue reading
These days I strictly ration my visits to the cinema, with the exception of two franchises that will immediately override the austerity lockout: one is the James Bond series, and the other consists of the Star Trek films. Currently the tally of each stands at 13 for the former up to last year’s Skyfall (or 14 if you include Never Say Never Again, which of course I don’t) while Star Trek Into Darkness marks the 12th film of the science fiction series that I’ll have dutifully trotted out to see during its initial theatrical run.
Let’s cut through the suspense and deliver the bottom line: is it any good? The answer is yes, very. If you love the 2009 JJ Abrams-helmed reboot (see my contemporary review here) then you’re almost guaranteed to love this follow-up since it contains all the elements that made the first film to successful, including the jaw-dropping spectacular visuals, non-stop adrenalin-rush thrills, the jittery camerawork and jump zooms and of course the lens flare that slathers every shot to the point of self-parody. Of course if you were among that group that felt the first film made a travesty of the original spirit of the Star Trek series then none of this is going to do anything to persuade you to the contrary this time, either. And I confess, I had at least one foot in that camp and wasn’t as utterly thrilled with Abrams’ first outing as many people were as a result. Continue reading
Posted in Film
Tagged Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, jj abrams, John Cho, Karl Urban, Peter Weller, Simon Pegg, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, tribble, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
With the sad news that film special effects trailblazer Ray Harryhausen had died last week at the age of 92 at his home in London, I thought it was appropriate to pay a small tribute to the man by watching this low-budget documentary that I picked up just last month from the London branch of Forbidden Planet.
In fact ‘low-budget documentary’ is a bit of a misnomer, since there’s pretty much no budget to speak of at all and the whole thing broadly consists of a lot of movie clips interspersed with talking heads filmed in often less than ideal circumstances but with the subjects nonetheless fulsomely gushing over how great Harryhausen was, making this a celebratory hagiographic retrospective lacking even the slightest hint of critical analysis of its subject.
And you know what? When the fans lining up to laud Harryhausen are of the calibre of Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, John Lasseter, John Landis, Guillermo del Toro, Tim Burton and Nick Park as well as life-long friend and SF great Ray Bradbury, then I’m just fine with that approach. Their glowing tributes to the man, his pioneering special effects work and the magic that his ‘Super Dynamation’ brought to their lives and to all of ours, and how he inspired them to become the filmmakers they are today, give this plainly constructed film a heart and soul that is very hard to resist. Continue reading
I have a confession to make this week: I was up to my ears in work over the weekend, and was in a distracted mood for everything else that evening, which means that this week’s episode of Doctor Who wasn’t able to really grip me or even sink in properly (and also explains why it’s taken longer to write this post than usual.) I suspect this is mainly my own problem/fault, although if I were being harsh I could suggest that the very fact that the episode ‘happened’ without actually demanding my attention suggests that it wasn’t all that it had been hoped it would be.
In many ways, this was the episode we should have expected from Neil Gaiman when we originally heard that the fantasy author was going to write for the series. Instead we first got the brilliant “The Doctor’s Wife,” which set such high standards for any follow-up story that it was almost impossible to meet even with appropriately lowered expectations set firmly to ‘realistic’ in advance. It’s still full of recognisably authentic Gaiman-esque touches, being set in the richly textured and slightly off-kilter landscape of a derelict amusement planet populated by memorably quirky characters none of whom are or end up being what they initially seem to be – of which the same could be said about the Doctor and Clara themselves. Continue reading
Something of a peculiar beast this one, which is billed as a crime drama following the pioneering early forensic work of a pathologist working in London during the Blitz in 1940.
I say ‘billed as a crime drama’ because to be honest it feels more like a comedy pastiche at times, right from the opening titles which are impressively and stylishly done but which play exactly like a modern video game. Then there’s the fact that everyone’s so ruddy jolly and perky, busy having illicit sex in blacked-out rooms at the height of air raids, chuckling to their favourite radio show, heading off to dance houses and generally having a whale of a time of it.
The aim is presumably to make the programme full of dark, black humour but if so then it misses the mark because the first half is just too frilly: it ends up making the dark days of World War 2 look infinitely more cheery than living in today’s stressful austerity era, even when there’s a brutal murder or a bombed-out house to investigate. Continue reading
Sometimes I’m asked how I decide what to review on this blog, and the answer’s pretty simple – it’s whatever I happen to have watched, read, seen or listened to that week. I never choose to watch something purely to review it, which at least means that everything I review here is something that I actually wanted to see and why a negative post is usually a function of genuine disappointment rather than because it’s not my sort of thing in the first place.
But I don’t review everything I see/hear/watch in a week – I do have a life, strange as that seems to me as well I’m sure as to you. I cherry-pick the things I have something (new) to say rather than just churning out the same comments on an ongoing series for the sake of it. However, I thought as a one-off experiment, what I’d do here in this Very Special Post is run through the disturbingly long list of things that I have watched on the screen in the last seven days just to put a little context around the posts that did make it to the big time so far in May … Continue reading
Posted in Blog business, Television
Tagged Arne Dahl, Arrow, Being Human, Bones, Castle, CSI, Dallas, Defiance, Dexter, grimm, Murder on the Home Front, ncis, Russell Howard, Suits, The Mentalist, thriller, White Collar
It seems that filmmakers simply cannot leave Dr Hannibal Lector alone to dine in peace. He first appeared on screen played by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s 1986 film Manhunter adapted from author Thomas Harris’ initial novel Red Dragon, but it was the Oscar-winning film of Harris’ follow-up book The Silence of the Lambs (which was essentially a re-write of the first but with a female lead) that really made Anthony Hopkins’ incarnation of the cannibalistic serial killer into a global phenomenon. After that, Lector rather took over Harris’ stories and became the (anti) hero of Hannibal and then the prequel Hannibal Rising, which were of decreasing quality. Both were made into films (Gaspard Ulliel playing the younger version of the character) and Hopkins further reprised the role in a second adaption of Red Dragon.
Now that cinema has picked the bones of Dr Lector clean, it’s time for television to have its go with a brand new project entitled – oh, how imaginatively – Hannibal. But it’s not a new adaptation of the novel/film of that name, nor is it a new run at the prequel: although set prior to the events of Red Dragon, it’s not as far back into Lector’s childhood. Instead it takes as its jumping off point certain references from Harris’ first book referencing how a young FBI profiler by the name of Will Graham – cursed with exceptional empathy and insight into the minds of serial killers – first met and eventually exposed Lector.
The latter stage is a long way off as the new NBC series developed by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Heroes, Dead Like Me) opens with noted and respected psychiatrist Lector (played here with considerable cold relish and underplaying by Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen) meeting Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) for the first time to consult on a series of abductions and killings. Continue reading
Posted in Television
Tagged Anthony Hopkins, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Edward Norton, Hannibal, Hannibal Lector, Manhunter, Michael Mann, Red Dragon, Thomas Harris, William Petersen
Ahead of seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, here’s a review of the first JJ Abrams that I wrote on its original release in May 2009 and reproduced from the general topic blog that I had at the time …
The new Star Trek movie is a great piece of entertainment and easily one of the best action movies of the year. As a relaunch of the Trek franchise, it’s an outstanding success. But for all that, don’t believe the hype – it’s good, but it’s just not great.
Viewed as an attempt to reboot, revive and recast a moribund franchise, it’s an unqualified success. While remaining true to the underlying Trek ethos, the film manages to be fast, funny and action-packed where the old series and movies could be slow, ponderous and preachy. Yet despite any carping from die hard fans, the film is remarkably true to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an optimistic, altruistic and inspirational future. And despite the misgivings of many a fan, myself included, the recasting of iconic roles is almost without exception a collection of huge successes.
Zachary Quinto, for example – so great in Heroes, where he plays arch villain Sylar with an intelligence, subtlety and an outrageous amount of scene stealing that he’s almost the only reason for watching that show any more – is beyond perfect as Spock. He is both convincingly a young version of Leonard Nimoy’s character, and yet his own man as well, much more expressive, on edge and volatile than the refined and dignified Nimoy. He’s so good that you almost believe that this film and the entire Trek reboot has been sitting on its hands for seven years since the previous film just waiting for Quinto to be ready to accept the role. Continue reading