Tag Archives: science fiction

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE 

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE* 

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”
Walt Disney Company

Once upon a Time. . . four simple words which immediately conjure a whole host of possibilities and eventualities in literature and by extension, cinema. In her book A Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, Marina Warner attests that fairy tales are “Stories that try to find the truth and give us glimpses of greater things. . . this is the principle that underlies their growing presence in writing, art and cinema.” My own personal experience growing up was of reading fairy tales, myths and legends. Indeed, such stories formed a narrative backbone to my childhood and opened my mind to all manner of worlds of monsters, magicians, Kings, Queens, dragons, spiders, ghosts, gold-haired heroines, muscular heroes, acts of love and war, epic journeys; as well as breath-taking battles and feats of unimaginable compassion and bravery.

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Such an education conditioned my young mind for an array of imaginative potentialities and in later life my love of fairy tales and stories would bleed through into my love of cinema. But how does one make the leap off the page onto the screen, making that which is fantastic believable to our eyes, hearts and minds? In this article I would like to consider certain ways we have been conditioned and how storytellers develop their narratives in the fantasy genre. How does the unbelievable become believable in our minds? There are many ways in which this is achieved but I would like to focus on two methods which are familiarity and nostalgia.

How does one define fantasy cinema?  One could certainly posit the notion that the fantasy genre deals with fantastic themes including: magic, the supernatural, myth, folklore, exotic worlds, and fairy tales; and for the benefit of this article can encapsulate science fiction, horror and superhero movie genres. Essentially, fantasy is that which is not of our perceived rendition of reality, enabling escape into the extraordinary. Fantasy cinema is not simply dragons and wizards but more far-reaching as their stories cast their magic from childhood to adulthood. I myself recall the day when I first saw The Wizard of Oz (1939) as Dorothy’s journey from Oz literally took my breath away. Moreover, only recently I marvelled at the fantastic images and comedy of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) on the big screen.

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Lew Hunter’s book Screenwriting 434 is a fine research tool for all budding writers. He opines, “You have to make the audience care about your on-screen people and their dilemmas, and when that occurs you’ve created believable unbelievabilty. Audiences will not just get with a film that starts with what they perceive as unbelievable unbelievability.” Thus, this is an integral rule in getting the audience to suspend disbelief and come into a fantastic world. I mean for every Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which in my view brilliantly brought to life J. R. R. Tolkien’s incredible literary behemoth, you get many films which fail to achieve this. Peter Jackson obviously used, at the time, state of the art special effects to achieve his vision of the book but more important, in my view, is establishing the world and characters in the audience’s psychology and making the unbelievable believable.

As aforementioned there are many other movies which do not arguably work as fantasy films. Of course these are subjective choices but offerings such as: The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), Judge Dredd (1995), Batman and Robin (1997), Van Helsing (2004), Cat Woman (2004) The Lady in the Water (2006), Eragon (2008), Foodfight (2012), Terminator: Genisys (2015), Death-Note (2017), to name a few, could all be argued to have failed to make the unbelievable believable. Be it the poor writing, bad production choices or a lack of cogency in the presentation of the rules of their respective worlds, these are a few examples of movies which arguably did not work. But what of the films that successfully connect with our imagination. How do they achieve that?

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Disney Studios has been presenting animated and live action films for close to a century now. As well as developing short animated films centred on iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse, Disney Studios used established texts too. Their first short was Little Red Riding Hood (1922) and subsequently they would win an Oscar for The Three Little Pigs (1933). Thus, the Disney template of utilising familiar stories from folklore or fairy tales was born and since then they have produced many, many such short and feature length productions such as: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and The Little Mermaid (1989). The suspension of narrative disbelief is achieved because innately we are accustomed to the idea of talking animals or wicked witches or half-woman-half-fish characters as they were familiarised to us in infancy. Indeed, as famous fantasy writer Neil Gaiman confirms, “We encounter fairy tales as kids, in retellings or panto. We breathe them. We know how they go.” Thus, believable unbelievability is achieved due to conditioning as children with the extraordinary. Likewise, our acclimatization with commercial products when growing up, including toys such as: Lego, Transformers, Barbie and the Pixar’s ingenious Toy Story trilogy tap into this familiarity model and the child’s dream that perhaps our toys can actually come to life.

As we grow older though many of us can become cynical and lose the innocence and imagination we had when younger. Thus, the challenge for filmmakers is to make not only children but also adults believe in the fantastic and the unbelievable. One way of doing this is through nostalgia or harking back to narrative conventions established from yesteryear. Academic Frederick Jameson wrote in his seminal essay Postmodernism and Consumer Society, that society entered a key cultural period from around the 1960s onwards where modernism had given rise to postmodernism and that originality per se was being replaced by emulation; more specifically satire, parody and pastiche. He goes on to suggest “. . . individualism and personal identity is a thing of the past. . . stylistic innovation is no longer possible and all that is left is the imitate dead styles.” A cinematic element of pastiche he argues is the “nostalgia film” which consists, not of original narrative, but of film moments and narratives from the previous films.

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Indeed, one of the most successful cinema franchises of all time is George Lucas’ series which began with, Star Wars (1977). While containing many original elements in regard to the fictional monsters, creatures, planets, space ships, weapons, heroes and villains it’s structurally very familiar, featuring the archetypal hero rescuing a “Princess in a Tower” narrative.  Even the “Once Upon a Time. . .” like beginning is echoed in the now classic opening text: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .” Moreover, the expositional crawl which then follows is inspired by the early Saturday cinema sci-fi adventures such as: Flash Gordon. Lucas’ genius in using such nostalgic devices creates a clear pattern of familiarity and mental preparation for the fantasy elements yet to come in the story. Lastly, and less obvious, Star Wars also draws heavily, in terms of structure and characters, from Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Hidden Fortress (1958).

Similarly, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is equally adept at creating a magical world out of nostalgia and familiarity. The films are all structured around the school year and generally begin with an opening set-piece set in a mundane suburban area before slowly introducing the fantasy elements. Of course, some of us may not be so nostalgic for our school years but we are familiar with the educational structure. The Harry Potter books and films are a creative stroke of genius creating both emotional connections for children and adults. Children see the characters of Harry, Hermione and Ron as reflection and wish to emulate such characters; while adults can look back on their school days nostalgically and perhaps also enjoy the magical adventures from a position of halcyon positivity. What Star Wars and Harry Potter both offer is a means to project some incredibly fantastical elements but make it believable by setting their worlds in a recognizable environment such as school or through the stylistic signifiers like the opening Star Wars text.

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Ultimately, most of us love reading or going to the cinema in order to be entertained and escape from our reality. However, if the writer or filmmakers have not successfully created a suspension of disbelief we as an audience will fail to enter their fantasy world. Quality writing, production design, costumes, make-up, performance are of course integral to ensuring we believe what we read and see on the screen. However, as I have attested films also work on a more psychological level of drawing us in using methods such as familiarity and nostalgia to tell their stories. We may not even be aware of this but to make the unbelievable believable it paradoxically must connect with our prior knowledge and experiences, especially those we had as children.

*Originally posted on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com

 

 

 

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BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Philip K. Dick’s dense, dystopic and futuristic novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), is an ugly, beautiful, depressing, obtuse, hypnotic wade-through-treacle read full of incredible concepts relating to: Artificial Intelligence; robot technology; android simulacra; animal husbandry; apocalyptic disease; virtual reality/empathy mood tech; extinguished humanity; and ultimately, of course, mortality and death. The fact that Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples were able to fashion a workable screenplay for Ridley Scott to direct is a creative miracle in itself. Moreover, it is testament to the writing and Scott’s incredible production team that Bladerunner (1982) is held in such high esteem among cinema fans now.

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The original Bladerunner, despite bombing at the box office and subsequently going through a number of cuts, re-cuts, final cuts and re-re-re-releases, has become a bona fide science fiction cinema classic. I watched the original theatrical version recently and despite the deadpan Harrison Ford voiceover and spurious, tacked on “happy” ending, it actually has a lot going for it. Obviously the ‘Unicorn Dream’ re-edits released under the guidance of Ridley Scott are the purer versions but the film holds up notably because of Ford’s gruff, depressive and world-weary performance as Rick Deckard; the imperious psychopathy of Rutger Hauer as android assassin Roy Batty; Scott’s glorious tech noir rendition of our desecrated future; as well as the evocation of Philip K Dick’s thematic existential power.

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Thus, to offer up a near three-hour sequel to a box office bomb of an almost unfilmable novel was something I thought extremely brave from a creative and business perspective. However, as soon as I saw the director Denis Villeneuve was attached, I immediately knew that Bladerunner 2049 was a must-see! This filmmaker has elevated himself to the higher echelons of Hollywood directors with superlative work such as: Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014), Sicario (2016) and Arrival (2016). In such films he was able to meld story, style, character and performance to create very accessible genre films which encapsulate the pain and drama of the human condition adroitly.

In Bladerunner 2049, the future’s orange but, like the original novel and film adaptation, it’s definitely not bright! We are in a sick, unforgiving and murderous world where a dying Earth, specifically California, is inhabited by killer replicants, pleasure models, and totalitarian law enforcement and overseen by the venal, profit driven capitalist oligarchic Wallace Corporation. In this vision of Earth, men, women, children, animals and robots are all slaves to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. I have seen some critique that the film is exploitative in its female representations but the films reflects much that is wrong with our world today and the original novel’s dystopic and misanthropic themes.

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Both male and females are objectified and deemed commodities and alas that is true too of the sick world we live in today, yet perhaps just not as blatant? Bladerunner 2049, I does not offer solutions but depressingly mirrors society’s desire to sexualise and exploit others. Our “hero” the replicant cop ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) is a victim of such exploitation in his touching relationship with A: I hologram Joi (Ana De Armas). Ultimately, he learns that they’re all being faked by the horrific technological nightmare they call existence. I think it extremely interesting that K’s wry smile when he realises he has been exploited by the Wallace Corp. product Joi; and paradoxically this demonstrates his humanity.

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Villeneuve, aided with startling artistry by cinematographer Roger Deakins directs from a screenplay written by original writer Hampton Fancher, plus Michael Green. One could argue that the original Bladerunner is style over content, as the story was distilled to that of Deckard basically hunting down a bunch of outlaw robots. However, the style WAS the content along with the dense richness of the themes. Similarly, Bladerunner 2049 does not have a particularly complex plot, save for one fantastic thematic reversal, yet at its heart it explores the powerful question of what it means to be human? I think all intriguing narratives should ask this and explore important notions of existence. I mean, it’s not surprise Gosling’s character is called ‘K’ – because the story echoes Kafka’s The Trial in many ways. Indeed, is his seemingly futile search for meaning or humanity just a pointless pursuit or is it reward enough to delude oneself with the possibility of hope or love? Life and the decision whether to carry on regardless is therefore very much on trial.

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I think this is a film which will benefit from further viewings. I felt like I was watching a Tarkovsky or Bergman film on a massive budget.  It’s like Denis Villeneuve managed to combine, with the writers and designers, an indie-Hollywood-art film installation. I would say this is a character and theme led narrative rather than purely plot driven. Even Niander Wallace’s (Jared Leto) weirdness, while not essential for the plot, added to the depth of character and surface emotion. He felt like a Colonel Kurtz figure trapped in his own insane delusion and obsession. Could he have been a replicant too? Likewise, Harrison Ford’s reappearance as Deckard adds great flavour to a wonderful sci-fi broth. Yet, his aging persona is integral to the plot and not simply a meta-textual nod to the original film.

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Ultimately, we mere mortals are arguably not worthy to critique this fantastic work of genre art cinema. I understand it was slow but that almost increased the joy for me. It moved glacially but with high confidence and in Ryan Gosling it had a bona fide star to guide us through this sick yet beautiful world. Moreover, the sound design and music from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch was a powerful force which heightened the suspense and paranoia. While the visuals are absolutely breath-taking I was also drawn in by the existential intrigue of the themes.  Technically, within the story, the replicants are not living people but we empathise with their plight nonetheless because THEY are US. There lies the paradox and beauty of this film, in that I cared and was fascinated by what happened to actors playing robots on the cinema screen.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE

I love Doctor Who and have written many times about it on this blog with reviews and articles. I think what I love about it most is that within the genre structure of a Time Lord and companions doing battle against foes is the fact that you can end up anywhere in time and space; in scientific reality and magical fantasy. Each episode contains surprise and mystery and imaginative ideas which draw you in again and again. So, here I go with a review of the at times completely genius, occasionally so-so, but mainly brilliant entertainment that is Season 10. If you also wish to read last season’s review please do so here.

SPOILERS AHEAD, DARLING

Couple of minor gripes before I start!  Please stop with the preview spoilers BBC!  There were too many dramatic surprises within the series given away across the TV screens and T’internet. Firstly Capaldi’s departure from the show AND John Simm would be coming back as The Master. Oh, and the origins of the Mondasian Cybermen was revealed too giving away another surprise from the exceptional double-headed finale. Lastly, now Chris Chibnall is to take over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, I hope he’ll dispense with the incessant characters dying and coming back to life trope. This has now literally been done to death. However, putting these minor grumbles aside I was very entertained by the season overall.

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WHAT’S IN THE VAULT?

When the commanding character actor, musician, director and writer Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor Who a few years ago, I was very excited. Here was an experienced actor full of gravitas, energy, wit, light and dark humour, who would no doubt bring his own vision to the role of the ancient Gallefreyan. And I was not disappointed at all!  I really loved Capaldi’s Doctor because he was very rounded and in his face you could see the years of time-travelling experience. And wow – can he deliver a grandstanding monologue too!

In Season 10, he was meant to be anchored to Earth guarding the Vault, having taken an oath to ensure Missy/The Master does not escape. Instead he attempted to redeem Missy – portrayed with devilish brio – by Michelle Gomez. Did he succeed? Well, it’s open to interpretation. Nonetheless, this story arc was way more convincing and emotional than Season 9’s confusing “Hybrid” arc. In fact, I’d say Steven Moffatt nailed the dramatic arc and emotion on this one.

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THE NEW FACES

The Doctor, as well as looking after the Vault, found two new companions in tow. They were Bill Potts, played with a wide-eyed and naïve charm by Pearl Mackie. We also had a former rogue-but-now-kinda-sweet cyborg called Nardole, portrayed by the brilliant comedic actor Matt Lucas.  In a terrific meta-gag from Steven Moffat, during World Enough and Time, Missy called them “Exposition” and “Comic Relief”; however, I think they were a bit more than that.

As usual the audience were reflected in Bill’s character as her initial wide-eyed and open-mouthed awe at the Doctor and the Tardis’ capabilities gave way to an awe and wonderment at the space adventures that ensued. Bill proved herself a valuable sidekick to the Doctor. She had a kind soul and there were some emotional pull to her due her being an orphan, plus being gay created an extra dynamic in the storylines as well as some humour too.

Nardole, on the other hand, was mainly played for laughs as he had some fantastic banter with the Doctor. Lucas did not go over-the-top wacky though and gave Nardole a world-weary trudge and set of grumpy looks and fine one-liners. At the same time he remained very loyal to the Doctor and really came into his own in the latter episodes when his hacking skills were used to combat the Cybermen.

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THEMES

Thematically this season of Doctor Who was very strong. Of course the Doctor remained stalwart in his world view of protecting the oppressed against evil. But he also had a redemptive plan where Nardole and Missy were concerned. Reading between the lines it appeared Nardole had a shady past so the Doctor employs him to do right by his oath to guard Missy in the Vault. Missy however, was a more difficult proposition and during Extremis it is revealed the Doctor saves her from death, with a view to redeeming her soul. This theme plays out really well within the individual episodes, especially in the wonderful denouement of The Doctor Falls where Missy and her older self, The Master (fiendishly portrayed by John Simm) join forces against the Doctor; only for Missy to kind of atone and attempt to join the Doctor in the fight against the Cybermen.

Love was another powerful emotion and theme to pervade the season.  The Doctor’s love for, or at least yearning for the childhood friendship he had with Missy/Master shone through during those final episodes. Bill’s love for her deceased Mother was palpable too, playing a big part in defeating the Monks in The Lie of the Land. Also, it was Bill’s love for Heather during the The Pilot episode which eventually saved her and the Doctor from certain death during The Doctor Falls. It was a big leap of faith in the storyline to believe this substantive narrative call-back, but I think it really worked and I was pleased Bill survived. What becomes of the Doctor we shall see?

The episodes generally were very strong and Doctor Who also gave some terrific social commentary in between the monsters, robots and general temporal trickery. Thin Ice critiqued racism, while Oxygen did the same with corporate greed. Rogue landlords and the student life were satirized in Knock Knock and most powerfully religious, medical and military control were examined and disparaged during the trilogy episodes: Extremis, Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land. Visually the show was also very striking with agricultural, urban and futuristic locales merging with some wonderful beasts, humanoids, robots and space zombie foes. Thus, overall, in my humble opinion, it was a very impressive and rich raft of Doctor Who episodes.

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EPISODE REVIEW AND RATINGS (with more SPOLIERS)

  1. THE PILOT – Steven Moffat

This was a terrific opening episode full of fine sci-fi and fantasy concepts which established a melancholic desire for belonging and love across the stars. Bill meets the Doctor and is pursued by a strange alien force in oil form and we see the Vault for the first time. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. SMILE – Frank Cottrell Bryce

Bill and The Doctor visit an Earth colony run by Emoji-faced robots which somehow had been programmed to treat grief and depression as a disease. A beautifully designed other world setting mixing future and agricultural landscapes is the strength of this episode. The Bill and Doctor dynamic also developed very nicely too.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. THIN ICE – Sarah Dollard

Set in London 1814, the story found a nasty English Toff exploiting a beast below the iced river of the Thames for super-fuel. Bill discovers the Doctor is not a stranger to death and as a critique of the racist and prejudicial nature of the upper classes the episode works very well. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. KNOCK-KNOCK – Mike Bartlett

Strange landlords, cockroaches and a house that eats people are the dangers that face Bill and her flatmates in this episode. David Suchet is on excellent form as the antagonist compelled to keep his Mother alive in a touching reveal at the story end. Capaldi’s Doctor is kind of in the background but, of course, comes to the fore when danger strikes. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. OXYGEN – Jamie Mathieson

This was a terrific episode set on a space station where the air is literally paid for by the breath. Space zombies run amok as the Doctor, Bill and Nardole join a panicked crew into battling both monsters and a capitalist algorithm hell-bent on increasing profits. It’s full of great space mechanics, plot twists and race-against-the-clock excitement. Plus, the biggest gut-kicker is the Doctor goes blind; and the ramifications are very dramatic in later episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EXTREMIS – Steve Moffat

This was a tricksy episode because, amidst the Doctor’s blindness, we also got the Doctor saving Missy from a fate worse than a fate worse than death. We also got The Monks who, similar to the skull-faced Silence were a religious baddie determined to take over Earth. It was wonderfully crafted with a fine Monty Python “Killing Joke” homage and convincing critique of organised religion and suicide cults. Arguably the simulacra-twist at the end undermined the drama a tad, but on second watch it was a very clever and well-written episode. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

  1. THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD – Peter Harkness and Steven Moffat

Following on from the religion heavy previous episode here the writers took a swipe at the military and the scientific folly of humanity. The Monks now reveal themselves openly and clearly to the world and that they will save the Earth from a biochemical catastrophe. The most powerful aspect of this episode is Bill’s decision to save the Doctor’s sight even though it means the Monks gaining control. Here the emotional power of the script was impressive and Capaldi was awesome in both wit and gravitas. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. THE LIE OF THE LAND – Toby Whithouse

The Monks trilogy came to an end with the world plunged into a dystopic Big Brother style mind-controlling of stupid and gullible human beings. The Doctor has sided with the Monks and Bill and Nardole must track him down to attempt a reversal of fortune. Again Bill is at the centre of the emotion here as Pearl Mackie delivers a fine dramatic performance. Safe to say the Doctor and Bill’s love for her mother defeat the Monks somewhat fantastically but a strong denouement nonetheless. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EMPRESS OF MARS – Mark Gatiss

A meta-mish-mash episode from Mark Gatiss, as Zulu meets the Icemen of Mars! This fast-paced episode was reminiscent of old Doctor Who as the British Empire soldiers find they are no match for the Icemen and their recently awoken Empress. A direct cousin to the Gatiss-penned episode Cold War, what it lacked in emotion it made up with in humour and derring-do. (Mark: 7 out of 10)

 

  1. THE EATERS OF LIGHT – Rona Munro

More soldiers but this time the episode features the Picts and legendary 9th Roman Legion which mysteriously went missing in 2nd century Scotland. There was a lilting Celtic vibe to the music and cold landscape as a vicious beast feeds on the light and any humans in its way. I enjoyed the witty script and mix of historical and science fantasy made it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME – Steve Moffat

This was my favourite episode of the season; only spoilt by the BBC ridiculous policy of giving away plot details in the trailers.  Here the Doctor, Nardole and Bill land on a humungous space-ship over 400 miles high which is perilously close to a black hole. The Doctor gives Missy a chance to shine as er… The Doctor and much hilarity ensues. Michelle Gomez owns this episode and the moment she meets her past Master is a wonderful twist. I loved the duality of evil theme and the ship with different temporal states was just a brilliant concept from Moffat. Bill’s slow transition into a Mondasian Cyberman is directed with creepy imagery and fear-inducing dread; while Capaldi’s face when he realises he’s too late is damned heart-breaking. (Mark: 10 out of 10)

  1. THE DOCTOR FALLS – Steven Moffat

The Doctor, Nardole and Cyber-Bill join together to battle the gathering Cybernetic storm. In their way though are the old Master and an on-the-fence-good-bad Missy. Bill’s realisation that she is a Cyber-person adds real pathos, while the Missy/Master axis of evil contains some dark wit between the action. The Doctor stands strong, until even he cannot sustain life amidst the beatings, electrocutions and explosions he suffers. With the Doctor and Bill virtually dead, and the Master and Missy killing each other, it is left to Heather (from The Pilot) to save the day. It was a big narrative pill to swallow but I loved the sentiment of love conquering space and time. Lastly, the final image of the Doctor, dying in the snow, being found by his original self was a wonderful payoff to lead into the Capaldi’s regeneration episode. (Mark: 9 out of 10)

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THE FUTURE

I read on the social media forums a lot that, amidst the more level-headed Dr Who fans, people are very critical of how the show has gone under Steven Moffat. Like a football supporter unhappy with their manager they have been complaining that Moffat’s writing is not very good and episodes have become stale and repetitive or even worse boring. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I say to those people to stop watching.

Having viewed all of the rebooted Dr Who seasons many times I think, for a science-fiction family show screened at teatime on a Saturday it is actually on the main brilliant. Some of Moffat’s over-elaborate timey-wimey arcs have probably been too complex and fantastical, however, he has tried to be imaginative and experimental and for that should be congratulated. He has done great service to the grand Time Lord and he, the production crew, actors and writers should be proud of their wonderful efforts.

We await a new Doctor and a regenerating writing team led by Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame. Broadchurch was a brilliant police show set in a coastal community and if he can bring the emotion and depth of character to Doctor Who, I believe the show will be in safe hands. And who will be the next Doctor! Well, my choice would be the superb actor Reece Shearsmith and if they so happen to make the character female then I would go for Olivia Colman. Who it will be only time (and space) will tell.

 

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017)

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017) – SEASON 1

DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon

WRITER(S):  Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale  – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz

CAST:  Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin

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**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.

Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.

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It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.

The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.

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The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.

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This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

 

 

WHAT IS LOVE? VALENTINES’ MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL

WHAT IS LOVE?

–        Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust? 

–        Is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time? 

–        Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation? 

–        Is it an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively?

–        Is it a form of madness which ensures we make crazy and stupid life decisions?

–        Is it a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence?

–        Or is it a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors?

Put simply it is: ALL OF THE ABOVE at some point in all our lives; although perhaps not the stalking!?!?

What I definitely know is that love is a big part of everybody’s lives whether it’s the positive or negative type? Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV show and adverts!  So for my latest article I will review some of the films and programmes I have watched recently which had love or some version of it echoing through its’ narrative heart.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

45 YEARS (2015) – NETFLIX

Charlotte Rampling just owns this wonderful bitter sweet drama as a woman “celebrating” forty-five years of marriage to curmudgeon Tom Courtenay. The story moves slowly but confidently as Rampling’s Kate Mercer is shook up by revelations from her husband’s past. Andrew Haigh directs with a haunting charm as love is rendered in wintry hues, while marriage is illustrated as a culmination of what-ifs-buts-and-what-could-have-beens.  (Mark: 9 out of 11)  

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BLACK MIRROR (S3) – SAN JUNIPERO – NETFLIX

Charlie Brooker’s savage satire series cuts off your eyelids and forces one’s eyes to the see the nefarious side of technology. However, the episode San Junipero is an altogether more touching and heart-rending beast. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis as a couple of young girls who fall in love in the 80s drenched coastal town of San Junipero it builds slowly to a majestic reveal in the final act and the themes of love, euthanasia and life after death inform the romance with tearful power. (Mark: 9 out of 11) 

BLUE JAY (2016) – NETFLIX

Mark Duplass is an interesting actor-writer-director-improviser who produces small, naturalistic and improvisatory films that are often quietly impressive. Blue Jay is a sporadically brilliant two-hander starring Duplass and the effervescent Sarah Paulson as a former couple who reconnect after years apart and spend a day together revelling in the past, present and future love. Paulson is stunning and Duplass is just Duplass as we spend time with very human characters just trying to get by in love and life. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

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BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013) – FILM FOUR

You know the story: girl-meets-girl-falls-in-love-has-lengthy-lesbian-sex-sessions-moves-in-with-girl-then-cheats-on-girl-but-not-before-there-are-more-lengthy-scissor-sister-sessions. Well, something like that.  Jokes aside, this is a very honest and believable slice-of-life drama with incredible performances from Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos as the two lovers. The film was laden with awards at time of release and benefits from Abdellatif Kechiche’s frank and intriguing direction. Personally speaking I felt the soul-searching drama and love story were very powerful but the sex scenes were over-long and pornographic and lent nothing to the story overall. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

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BROOKLYN (2015) NETFLIX

This soapy-honey-sweet 1950s set love story contains a tremendous central performance from Saoirse Ronan, as an innocent Irish girl who goes to New York in search of a job and finds love with an Italian plumber. The film delivers a pot pourri of bright colours, national and migrant archetypes and resolves much of the drama very easily; in fact, the film was so nice I expected the cast to break out into song by the end. John Crowley directs the undemanding story deftly and while, I imagine, the plight of an immigrant in those days was much harder than demonstrated this is fine Sunday matinee fare and difficult to dislike. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11) 

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JACKIE (2016) – CINEMA

Does this fit into the love story genre?  I think as a story about a woman who lost the husband she loved, his head blown completely off by a sniper’s bullet, it qualifies as a film about the departure of love.  It’s a powerful portrait of Jackie Kennedy with Natalie Portman impressing as the wife of the President left devastated by his sudden murder. Portman as Jackie carries the weight of loss and sorrow on her petite shoulders, drawing on all her strength to carry on living for the sake of a nation and more importantly her children. Her life has been condemned as a void and Portman’s haunting visage betrays an unforgettable lament throughout. Pablo Larrain directs using documentary and dramatic stylings to powerful effect and the score by Mica Levi is to die for. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

LA LA LAND (2016) – CINEMA

As it sweeps the boards at the awards ceremonies La La Land can certainly be praised as a funny, energetic, imaginative spectacle with fantastic direction by Damian Chazelle. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are also on great form, delivering  some wonderful songs throughout. As a love story it works but only on the surface as the boy-meets-girl-struggling-artists’ narrative lacks depth overall. Still, it’s a great musical in the classical Hollywood model – just not a Best Film Oscar winner. (Mark: 9 out of 11)   

My original review can be found here:

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THE LOBSTER (2015) – NETFLIX

In an oppressive near-futuristic society individuals must yield to socio-political mores and be married with children or you get turned into an animal of your choice!  Well, this certainly isn’t the pitch of a love story that Hollywood would make in a hurry. However, the misadventures of Colin Farrell’s hopeless love-life are explored to dark and comical effect in Yorgos Lanthimos’ startling comedy-drama. This is one of the best films I have seen a long time which is equally bizarre yet believable in its absurd honesty. We run around attempting to find love or force romance when we should just let nature take its course. Farrell has never been better and his weird romance with Rachel Weisz is so damned original in thought and delivery it left my heart stained with pathos and delirium. (Mark: 10 out of 11) 

 

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) DVD

My wife “made” me watch this one at Christmas and as soon as it finished I was diagnosed with diabetes!  It is such a sickly, sweet and sappy rom-dram-com that, while I think Richard Curtis deserves praise for some excellent writing, it is just too clichéd for me. I love ensemble portmanteau films and many of the overlapping stories here would make excellent short films; moreover, the cast including: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth and many more are very watchable. But the whole love pudding is over-sweetened, over-egged and over-cooked for my taste. (Mark: 6 out of 11) 

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PASSENGERS (2016) – CINEMA

You and your other passengers are in stasis on a many centuries long journey to another galaxy and you’re woken up early.  You are alone. In space. Until you die. If you could wake up the other passengers, but would you?  Given the fellow passenger is Jennifer Lawrence you have a bloody tough choice. And what if she finds out too: you’re a murderer in effect. That’s the moral dilemma which faces Chris Pratts’ character in this frothy space-rom-drama. I enjoyed the stylish science-fiction genre flick as it looks fantastic in design and cast. It doesn’t have much depth but I found it to be lots of fun especially as Pratt is charming and funny as ever and Lawrence is easy on the eye too. (Mark: 7 out of 11) 

APOCALYPSE TO ZOMBIES: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016) REVIEW

APOCALYPSE TO ZOMBIES: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016) REVIEW

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Being an avid cinema-goer I love the experience and have few complaints as a pastime generally. Of course there are great, good, mediocre and bad movies but that’s the nature of any business. However, one of the things that often gets on my nerves is the lack of promotion for really good low-budget films produced in the U.K. Quite often such films on a lower budget fall foul of the power of the Multiplex domination by Hollywood where Disney, Marvel and Star Wars franchise films saturate the cinema screens. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy such cinematic entertainment, but every now and then, a real gem of a film falls between the cracks and does not get the attention it should. One such film is the British zombie-horror drama The Girl With All The Gifts (2016).

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Somewhere amidst the Hollywood marketing behemoth this film was released last year to very little fanfare and it deserved much more in my opinion. It has an excellent cast with Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close playing key characters. It also features an intriguing script – based on his novel – by M.R. Carey, succinct direction by Colm McCarthy; plus a standout performance from young actress Sennia Nanua. I must say that the score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer added to the overall dread, scares and brooding peril and I expect this composer to go to the top of his profession.

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Thematically, the film is very strong dealing initially with a skewed educational situation as Ms Justineau (Arterton) teaches her pupils; who are mysteriously chained to their desks. The reason for this is revealed slowly allowing the tension to rise gradually as Justineau’s special relationship with “gifted one” Melanie develops. Their bond builds throughout and one may argue Justineau’s feelings and decisions are misplaced as the adults versus children dynamic heightens. Indeed, the landscape is filled with monstrous orphans and suspense is generated because Melanie’s allegiance could switch any time between the adults and the other zombie children.

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Thus, compared to the very average rom-zom-com-mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), which benefited from a £28 million budget, The Girl With All The Gifts (made for £4 million) contains a whole lot more suspense, imagination and atmosphere.  The story itself treads the familiar mud and blood road of a post-apocalyptic world where children are the only hope to combat a deadly virus that has wiped out humanity. It’s a standard scientists-and-soldiers-on-the-road-type-plot which wears a jacket of influences including: Lord of the Flies, 28 Days Later, and various George Romero films very well. Overall, this psychological horror contains a number of tense, heart-racing and gory scenes making it an under-rated classic which deserved more success at the cinema in my humble opinion.

 

 

 

FIX FILMS PRESENT: CHANCE ENCOUNTER (2017) – A STAR TREK FAN FILM

FIX FILMS PRESENT: CHANCE ENCOUNTER (2017) – A STAR TREK FAN FILM

If you didn’t know, as well as being a wage slave and film blogger, I am also a screenwriter, producer, caterer, florist, dead body and whatever job comes up during the low budget filmmaking process.  The production company I set up over ten years ago is called Fix Films and our work can be found here.

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Myself and my filmmaking partner – director, editor, cinematographer, visual effects dude – Gary O’Brien have worked on nine previous shorts and our tenth is now being released TODAY!

It is called Chance Encounter and is a gentle and heart-warming narrative set in the Star Trek Universe.  Yeah, that’s right – Star Trek!  We had a successful Kickstarter campaign and raised the £2,000 plus-some-change budget ourselves and made the film with professional actors and crew, plus I was involved too. The original Kickstarter video can be seen here:

Having written the screenplay myself with Gary and worked on the shoot I am very proud of the film and feel our intention of respecting the sci-fi and romance genres, as well as the Star Trek universe itself has been achieved. Indeed the trailer here really captured the mood of our intentions.

This has especially been a labour of love for Gary; and his work directing, creating the sets, editing and designing all the visual effects himself is an incredible achievement on such a small budget. So well done to him for doing the screenplay justice. I also thank the brilliant cast and crew for their professionalism and efforts. We could not have done it without you.

So it is with great pleasure I present Chance Encounter (2017).    This is our short film – please watch it!