THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

Based on: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Created and Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Screenplay(s) by: Mike Flanagan, Liz Phang, Scott Kosar, Meredith Averill, Jeff Howard, Rebecca Klingel etc.

Executive producer(s): Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Meredith Averill

Production company(s): Flanagan Film, Amblin Television, Paramount Television, Netflix

Starring: Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Timothy Hutton etc.

**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

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Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is often proclaimed as one of the creepiest horror novels of all time. Made for the cinema twice, most memorably in 1963, by acclaimed director Robert Wise; who was perhaps so scared by the content his next film would be the musical Sound of Music (1965). Jokes aside, the novel is considered a classic and so genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, took on the task to bring it television over ten compelling episodes.

As Netflix produce a hell of a lot of original content I find it difficult to keep up with. However, I heard some decent buzz about The Haunting of Hill House, so decided to watch it before spoilers were plaguing the internet. From Jackson’s novel Flanagan has expanded the Hill House universe to bring an older ghost story bang up to date. Rather than centre on a seemingly disparate set of characters like the original, he has made the protagonists part of the same family. Therefore, the show is a confident mix of family drama, psychological and frightening horror.

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Flanagan and his writing team structure the episodes on a back-and-forth spine which finds the Crain family, at first moving into Hill House as a young family. Mother and father are portrayed by Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas (later Timothy Hutton) respectively, and together they have five young children, the oldest Stephen being around thirteen years old. We then bounce from the past to the present to show the children grown up, working through various angst and dramas as adults. Safe to say, pretty much all their problems are caused by that fateful summer spent renovating Hill House.

Arguably, the biggest character of them all in the programme is the house itself. It is a foreboding presence which infects the lives of all the characters in youth and adulthood. Conversely we are drawn into a rich tapestry of: ghosts, suicide, despair, death, addiction, therapy, marriage, lies, hallucinations, mental illness, death and divorce. Throughout, we are plunged into Hill House’s bag of spooky tricks as the family are terrorized insidiously by the property.

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Over ten brilliantly written episodes Mike Flanagan, his excellent cast and superb production team deliver some breath-taking horror moments. There’s also some chilling set-pieces, swooping camera-work, macabre monsters and really moving character monologues sprinkled within the scares and drama too. Most importantly, because of a careful and slow-build narrative, you really care what happens to the Crain family. This is also down to some excellent performances by the young children and older cast members.

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I would argue that the usual Netflix format of ten episodes finds the story stretched during certain periods. Indeed, while the storytelling and horror pay-offs are brilliantly imagined, some editing would have made them feel even more powerful. Yet, as he demonstrated with horror films Oculus (2013), Hush (2016) and Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan is a skilled filmmaker who has brought Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel to the screen with chilling acumen.

Mark: 9 out of 11

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DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 5 REVIEW: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM  (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 5 REVIEW: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM  (2018)

Directed by: Jennifer Perrott

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Cast:   Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Brett Goldstein, Ben Bailey-Smith, Suzanne Packer etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Well, this was a lot of fun. I really connected with this latest adventure, which found the Doctor and her crew initially scavenging on an alien junkyard planet, before suddenly being caught in a surprise sonic explosion. They wake aboard the Tsuranga – which is an automated space hospital – like a flying version of the National Health Service. Discombobulated and injured from the mine explosion the Doctor, companions, Tsuranga’s crew and patients are soon to be faced with an even bigger danger.

Small but devastating the danger is called a P’Ting. It’s a creature that scoffs non-organic material; a cute looking eating machine that will devour the ship. It attacks the vessel and begins literally eating it out of space-ship and home.  The Doctor, aided by the ship’s medical staff Astos and Mabli; plus General Eve Cicero; her brother Durkas; synth robot Ronan; and Yoss, a pregnant man are all threatened by the darned P’Ting. I wondered if there was some sociological subtext to the P’Ting as it eats its way through the hospital in space, with Chris Chibnall critiquing the devastation of the NHS by the Tories. However, this message wasn’t to the fore and overall it was essentially a fun genre episode with lots of action and humour throughout.

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The standard genre set-up of a base/ship under siege is a Doctor Who staple. Despite the simplicity of the plot, it felt fast-paced and thrilling to me. The guest stars were excellent too, notably the comedian Brett Goldstein who stood out during his time on screen. There was some silliness with Ben Bailey-Smith’s Durkas rigging up a nebulous engineering control to pilot the crashing Tsuranga; nonetheless the entertainment levels remained very high. I especially enjoyed the humour and emotion gained from the alien bloke (who looked very human) giving birth; while Tosin Cole’s Ryan examined further his own relationship with his estranged father. Overall though, this was another light and uncomplicated episode from Chibnall, Whittaker and the team, but one that had me laughing and thrilled throughout.  

Mark: 8 out of 11

SCREENWASH – OCTOBER 2018 – FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP

SCREENWASH OCTOBER FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP

I watched a load of films in October due to the London Film Festival mainly. I also wrote a lot of reviews too and realise that, with not enough hours in the day, or desire to read the ramblings of a narcissistic cineaste most people may not have had the time to read them all.

So, I have consolidated all my October reviews into one post and made it a quick and easy reference point for films currently out or coming out in the future. Here are quotes from the reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)

“Director Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well. While I would have preferred the tone to be darker we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale, and that is worth the admission fee alone.”

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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A STAR IS BORN (2018)

A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience. The story is familiar but the performances, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional journey; making a fine example of classic Hollywood storytelling at its best.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

“Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. . . mainly style over substance, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists that provide an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.”

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

“… feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of No Country for Old Men (2007). However, the Coen’s films improve with each viewing as you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance occurring between the lines.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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BORDER (2018)

“. . . is very brave filmmaking with fascinating themes relating to: ritual and child abuse; nature versus nurture; good versus evil; and how those humanity believes to be outsiders should not be treated as monsters but respect and love.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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DOGMAN (2018)

“Overall, this film made me feel really sad. This is a haunting character study of the outsider; a man who is literally like a dog. He is faithful, loyal and eager to please but ultimately let down by the human cruelty of those who exploit him.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE FAVOURITE (2018)

“Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Weisz and Stone are also quite brilliant in a devilishly quirky Machiavellian and lustful tale.”

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

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FIRST MAN (2018)

“. . . is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. It is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible and contains a moving human story at the heart.”

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE NUN (2018)

“. . . has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation.”

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

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PETERLOO (2018)

“Peterloo is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive. . .”

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

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THE PREDATOR (2018)

“. . . is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes.  It moves at such an alarming pace you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense.”

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

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VENOM (2018)

“What works is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. . .  it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off baddies. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his parasite make it worth a watch!”

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EP. 4 REVIEW: ARACHNIDS IN THE UK (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 4 REVIEW: ARACHNIDS IN THE UK (2018)

Directed by: Sallie Aprahamian

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Produced by: Alex Mercer

Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Cast:   Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Chris Noth, Shobna Gulati etc.

Composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Having got lost in space and time looking for her TARDIS, the Doctor and companions were now, via a stop in 1950s Alabama, back in the UK, present. Just at the right time it would seem too as Sheffield was in the grip of a major arachnid problem. If like me you’re not scared of spiders this episode held no major fears, however, for those with arachnophobia it played out like the stuff of nightmares.

The TARDIS lands on Ryan and Yasmin’s estate and we are soon introduced to Yas’ mother, father and, from her point of view, irritating sister. Her mother, Najia, has a job working at a just-about-to-open plush hotel. Her father spends his time complaining and collecting rubbish building up on the estate. Now, I wonder if these situations will be connected to the spider problem. Yes, I wonder?

Meanwhile, Graham and Ryan are faced with the continued grief over the loss of their loving wife and Aunt, Grace. Her ghost appears to Graham and Sharon D. Clarke performance adds a welcome emotional pull to the spider shenanigans. It also gives Graham and Ryan’s characters interesting depth as we continue to empathise with their loss.

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One would think the spiders would be the main monsters of the episode but they are not. Indeed, humans and capitalist corporations are often the biggest fiends within Doctor Who and that is no different in Arachnids in the UK. Hollywood actor Chris Noth as obnoxious American businessmen, Robertson, fires people and refuses to take any responsibility for the toxic contamination which causes the spiders to grow exponentially. Chris Chibnall has fun having digs at this Donald J. Trump clone and while Noth’s performance is a bit over-the-top, it’s in keeping with the B-movie horror tone of the episode.

Overall, this is a lighter episode than the previous week’s Rosa, but the giant spiders were quite frightening. Furthermore, the social commentary about environmental dumping of waste added another layer to the narrative also. Jodie Whittaker offered another safe performance as the Doctor although the storyline hardly stretched her talents. I thought Bradley Walsh gave a moving turn as Graham and the final scenes in the Tardis with the Doctor were memorable. Ultimately, Arachnids in the UK  was probably the weakest in the series so far, but it’s fast paced narrative and creepy crawlies filled the Doctor Who gap satisfactorily until next week.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11

 

 

FIRST MAN (2018) – OSCAR BINGO #2 AND FILM REVIEW

FIRST MAN (2018) – OSCAR BINGO #2 AND FILM REVIEW

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Produced by: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner, Damien Chazelle

Screenplay by: Josh Singer

Based on First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott

Music by: Justin Hurwitz

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Edited by: Tom Cross

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I’m probably not the best person to review this film. I do not like flying. I am not a fan of the concept of space travel. I’m firmly in the camp that we should sort our problems out on Earth first. Plus, the geo-political reasons of the era for going into space, such as the Cold War including the “space-race” with the Russians, seem such an alien concept to an idealist as me. Rather naively I just wonder why they couldn’t have just got on with each other.

Having said I am very much aware that in terms of scientific breakthroughs and sheer feat of human achievement, NASA, its staff and the astronauts involved, deserve unlimited praise for their work. Aside from the financial cost and loss of lives, getting into outer space remains an amazing feat of science and technology. But, what of Damian Chazelle and Ryan Gosling’s rendition of Neil Armstrong – is it all that? I will consider the film with a view to its Oscar potential while reviewing the movie as entertainment too.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

 

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BEST FILM CHANCES – 7/10

As a work of technical excellence First Man is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible. The human story works mainly as a biopic from Armstrong’s perspective as he, and his team, prepare to go into space. Moreover, it also works well as a study of grief and obsession. Armstrong is shown, via Ryan Gosling’s minimalist presentation, as an intelligent and steely individual who buries his life in his work to overcome a deep family loss. Given we already know how the story ends then it is to the film’s testament that the drama is maintained throughout. The dangerous nature of space travel and lives lost while shooting for the moon are powerfully highlighted. Yet, when we reach the lunar destination suspense had peaked before that point. Thus, the story relies on the stunning visuals more than drama to carry it to towards the final credits.

 

BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES – 8/10

Chazelle, as he showed with Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), is a young film director of some force and intelligence. Having directed Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons with an aggressive jazz-style, he would imbue La La Land with an optimistic, colourful and uplifting energy. First Man is completely different though. It is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. Here is a filmmaker who designs his films dependent on the subject matter. First Man is a confident cinematic work and Chazelle creates his own vision while also echoing the likes of Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick.

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BEST ACTOR – 8/10

I’m a big fan of Ryan Gosling. He has been in a number great films of recent years such as: Bladerunner 2049 (2018), The Nice Guys (2016), Drive (2011), Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Blue Valentine (2010) and more. He is a crafty performer as he doesn’t seem to be doing much. His acting style is like an iceberg; little on the surface but extreme depth below. This makes him perfect for a role such as Neil Armstrong and Gosling’s rendition is pure cinema. His face rarely moves but in his eyes and stillness a real gravitas is brought to the screen. I would expect he will go close to winning the Oscar if only for his accumulation of impressive acting work.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 8/10

Claire Foy delivers a sterling performance as Janet Armstrong. She is shown to be a caring mother but also a fiery protector of her husband. Foy’s acting actually transcends a mildly underwritten role as her intensity deserved more scenes than she is given. Nonetheless, it confirms Foy as an actor of some power and magnetism.

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BEST SCORE CHANCES – 9/10

The best scores, in my view, not only stand alone as fine works of music but also blend with the visuals to excellent effect. Justin Hurwitz’s score for First Man is a wonderful achievement and surpasses his work on La La Land in my view. While the moon landing is an incredible visual feat and silence is used to great effect, Hurwitz’ score never fails to shine throughout.


BEST TECHNICAL AWARDS – 9.5 out of 10

In terms of technical achievement in emulating the era in space and on Earth, First Man, is unforgettable. I’d fully expect it to win some or all technical awards for editing, sound, visual effects, design, etc. – it truly is a technical marvel!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 3 REVIEW: ROSA (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 3 REVIEW: ROSA (2018)

Directed by: Mark Tonderai

Written by: Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): BBC, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Cast:   Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Vinette Robinson, Joshua Bowman

Music: Segun Akinola

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**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

We now have the new Doctor, Companions, TARDIS and showrunner up and running. Therefore the new series of Doctor Who will sink or swim going forth based on the quality of the writing. Rosa written by acclaimed author Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall was an excellent episode which expertly combined socio-political, historical and science-fiction situations.

Malorie Blackman is an experienced writer with many books published;  and has written for Doctor Who before, providing one of the stories to the enjoyable Twelve Doctors: Twelve Stories audiobook I listened to this year. Rosa finds the TARDIS bringing the Doctor and pals back or forward to 1955, Alabama. There they find a nefarious character determined to change the course of history by stopping Rosa Parks’ legendary protest against segregation.

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Doctor Who has always used historical figures within their narratives including: Charles Dickens, Richard the Lionheart, Vincent Van Gogh, William Shakespeare to name a few. It harks back to the remit of the first Doctor’s era of desiring to educate and entertain; Rosa most certainly did that. It was also very moving as well as informative. Not only did it successfully give the audience a history lesson, it illustrated the vital importance of peaceful protest to achieve change. Moreover, it really pulled the companions, Ryan and Yasmin especially, into the emotion of the narrative as they suffer first hand racism from the ignorant people of Montgomery.

Overall, the episode zipped along and while the plotting had some wonky moments – mobile phones and Elvis, really!? – it contained some cracking gags; one zinger about artist Banksy was especially memorable. Also, Jodie Whittaker is finally settling into the role of the Doctor. She is a seriously good dramatic actor and I was pleased there were moments when the pace slowed to allow her work to breathe. In providing educational, historical and emotional resonance, Rosa, was an archetypal Doctor Who episode full of intelligent and poignant scenes. It also contained the scary idea that racism and prejudice are still present in the future!  Thankfully though, the Doctor and her companions, are here to help legends such as Rosa Parks to thwart it.

Mark: 9 out of 11

 

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #3 – STAR TREK OST – SEASON 3

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #3 – STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL SERIES – SEASON 3

My voyages on the first Starship Enterprise came to an end after seventy-nine intelligent, crazy, moving, mind-blowing, occasionally silly but always fascinating original series Star Trek episodes. Thus, having recently written reviews on the first and second series I have now completed watching the third series. In tone, the third and final season was probably more serious and I actually found the lack of comedy or parody worked in its favour.

Often maligned by some fans and critics alike for having some of the worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed, the third season, in my opinion, is actually very good. There are a few episodes, notably Spock’s Brain, that are just ridiculous and some, like Turnabout Intruder and Elaan of Troyius, that are rooted in regressive sexism. Plus, there’s a very familiar formula feeling too with contrived space-set situations echoing episodes from prior seasons. But to be honest I actually like that formula, which is why I still enjoy watching shows such as Quantum Leap, Doctor Who and indeed, Star Trek.

Thus, while formulaic familiarity set in, the budgets were cut and Scotty’s hair was all over the place from episode-to-episode, Season 3 still had some really memorable moments with great monsters, energetic villains, handsome actors and solid science-fiction concepts. Okay, some of the writing was at times lacking the snap, crackle and pop of say Gene L. Coon’s or D.C. Fontana’s scripts but I enjoyed the series very much. Here are six episodes which I feel still stand the test of time in terms of ideas, stories and drama.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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THE ENTERPRISE INCIDENT – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 2

This terrific episode has a brilliant spy versus spy plot as Kirk and crew attempt to steal a Romulan cloaking device. Crosses, double-crosses, fake deaths and conspiracies occur as the Enterprise finds itself at the mercy of Romulan vessels. Spock shows himself adroit at firstly betraying Kirk and then “romancing” the female Romulan Commander. While it doesn’t seem appropriate for his character to act this way it is of course part of a very logical plan. Nimoy’s performance is excellent and he again proves, underneath all that Vulcan make-up, he’s able to portray an emotionless character with much verve and charisma.

SPECTRE OF THE GUN – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 6

One of the over-hang scripts from Gene L. Coon’s reign as executive producer and show-runner successfully melds sci-fi with the Western genre. Kirk, Spock, Chekov and McCoy are transplanted by darned Melkotians into a virtual reality version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The only problem is they are all destined to die in the gun fight and must find a way of overcoming historical fate. Despite the contrivances in the narrative, the episode has much to offer thematically on violence and guns; as Kirk must decide between using force or peaceful means with which to overcome his foes.

FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8

Season three had some wonderfully pretentious episode titles and this one was no exception. However, it is a very effective episode that finds the Enterprise attempting to prevent an asteroid from colliding with a Federation planet.  However, the asteroid is not in fact a hurtling lump of space rock but a planet civilisation that provides a home to highly devout religious people. The clash of the Federation rules with the religious group’s rules provides much impetus for the drama. Moreover, the added woe of McCoy discovering he is dying and finding solace in the love for Natira of Yonada, makes this both an intriguing and moving episode.

WHOM GOD’S DESTROY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 14

The lunatics have literally taken over as memorable villain of the piece, former Fleet Captain Garth, gains control of the insane asylum at Elba II. Using shapeshifting abilities Garth is able to hoodwink Kirk and crew and take them prisoner. It’s a fun episode which finds the seasoned TV actor Steve Ihnat revelling in his role as the maniacal egomaniac Garth. There are lots of twists and turns throughout and the final fight scene involving Kirk fighting “himself” is most memorable as Spock must decide who the real Kirk is or who is Garth in disguise. While it’s quite a theatrical episode set in one location there’s load of fun to be had.

LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 15

Arguably the best episode of the season finds two battling humanoid aliens who will stop at nothing to wipe each other off the face of their war-torn planet. Frank Yorshin – who I recognised as The Riddler from the 1960s TV show Batman – portrays Commander Bele as a fanatical zealot. With his special telekinetic powers Bele takes control of the Enterprise and will stop at nothing to take his rival, Lokai, to trial and death. Indeed, Kirk is even forced to set the Enterprise in self-destruct mode to counter Bele. This is thematically a very strong episode as it critiques mindless racism and the senseless path of endless war. It’s also quite bleak at the end as a brilliant montage symbolises the potential destruction of Earth. Okay, so the message could be seen to be broad, and literally black and white, but it remains brave writing given it was released in the 1969 when civil unrest in the USA was rife.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 23

All Our Yesterdays found Kirk, Spock and McCoy dispersed back in time on endangered planet, Sarpeidon. I guess the ticking time bomb narrative of a dying world had kind of been done to death by now but it did not detract from an entertaining storyline which found Spock and Kirk in different timelines having entered a time portal by mistake. Kirk goes back to a medieval setting and is accused of being a sorcerer; while Spock and Bones are bombed five thousand years back to the ice age. Spock even finds time to fall in love as his genes regress with the age. Sounds silly but as Spock might say, I found it “fascinating.”

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!