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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

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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

 

 

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

 

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

Created by: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer(s): Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, Martin Behnke, Ronny Schalk, Marc O. Seng

Starring: Oliver Masucci, Karoline Eichhorn, Jördis Triebel, Louis Hofmann, Maja Schöne, Stephan Kampwirth, Shani Atias, Daan Lennard Liebrenz, Mikkel Nielsen, Andreas Pietschmann, Deborah Kaufmann etc.

Cinematography    Nikolaus Summerer

Original network:    Netflix

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**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

Where do you start with this clever German science-fiction-family-drama-murder-mystery-serial-killer-historical-thriller-drama?  Because over ten fascinating episodes it is challenging, baffling and mind-blowing in equal measures. Does this mean it’s any good? Well, on the main, it is well worth a watch, especially if you like labyrinthine narratives concerning time-travel paradoxes, death, human corruption and familial conflict.

Set in the fictional German town of Winden, Dark begins in 2019 before later on moving around in time covering at least another two separate timelines. I will admit I do not want to give spoilers away on this but if you like on-screen jigsaws which span different years and various versions of characters as children, adults and the elderly then this is for you. Indeed, over the ten episodes the creatives behind the show take you on a gruesome, stylish and splintered journey into the characters’ past, present and future.

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Dark is grim, weird with loads of death. It opens with the suicide of a man and a teenager from the local school has also gone missing. Further disappearances occur which baffle the police while at the same time dead birds drop out of the sky. Yet, this is to all intents and purposes a normal town with regular families, school, police and oh, a Nuclear power station. So, if you’ve seen the recent Netflix show Stranger Things you’ll recognise we’re in similar Stephen King type horror territory. Having said that, Dark doesn’t actually worry about you liking these intense characters the way King and Stranger Things does. Although you do root for some of them they are a humourless bunch. But, who can blame them given what’s about to happen to their town and it’s the weirdness and mystery that keeps you watching.

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Centred around four families within Winden called: Nielsen, Kahnwald, Doppler and Tiedemann, who all have secrets to hide. As these secrets are revealed the intriguing writing gives us more and more mysteries and at times I felt lost. However, with a multitude of strands pulled together during the last couple of episodes I was fully on board this incredibly rich genre mix of horror, drama and science-fiction. The style is also very alluring with darkness, light, rain, stark landscapes and photography creating a thrilling mood, along with the haunting score. Finally, there were still loads of questions which remained at the end but I’ll certainly be back for Season 2 in the future.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
Producer: Nikki Wilson
Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle
Composer:   Segun Akinola

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As a massive Doctor Who fan I was very much looking forward to the latest incarnation of one of the galaxies’ longest running television shows ever. With a new Sunday screening slot it was great to see the show back with a new Doctor, new showrunner, new sonic screwdriver, new companions, new theme tune, new Doctor Who costume and new, soon to be seen, inside-of-the-TARDIS. Yet, while there were lots of new stuff flying about on screen there was pretty much no major changes in the narrative formula. Basically, an alien from outer space, along with various sidekicks, battle to save the Earth or whatever planet they are on, while using: skill, luck, gadgets, guile, time-travel paradoxes, intelligence, stupidity, righteousness, technology, diversity, bravery, action, morality and good old fashioned running and jumping about.

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The first episode in this series called The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a fine, if safe, introduction to the new Doctor. It had a lot ground to cover introducing all the various elements I mention above and on the whole Chris Chibnall delivered a fun, linear script with some great lines of dialogue, decent jokes and an emotional pull not always present in Steven Moffat’s often very complex temporally challenging narratives. The “Predator” style alien invasion was something we’d seen before in Doctor Who and many science-fiction shows, films and books but the actual alien monster itself was quite scary. Moreover, some good comic mileage was mined from name “Tim Shaw” alone.

Jodie Whittaker, an instinctive and ultra-talented actor, was effervescent in the lead role and her earthy Yorkshire accent is certainly a change from the gravelly Scottish brogue of Peter Capaldi. The Internet broke when Whittaker was cast as the first female Doctor with protestations on the gender switch. All I can say is: get a life! The Doctor is both an alien shape shifter with two hearts who has lived for many millenniums and let’s face it, fictitious!  Who cares what gender they are because the most important thing is the quality of production, storylines and performances?  Based on this episode and the future clips I think this season will be very fine entertainment. I think that once Whittaker settles in to the role and is given some meaty and passionate storylines we will see her Doctor soar. Due to the characters’ regeneration and the wicked pace of the episode, Whittaker’s emotional range was not really tested, but I’m sure it will be.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing for a show with so much change was how familiar it all felt. But the one thing I did enjoy was the feeling we’ll be spending time with an interesting and diverse set of characters within a pseudo-family unit. You have the Doctor, obviously, representing both mother and father, Bradley Walsh’s character representing the Grandfather and Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill representing older children. It remains to be seen whether the latter will have a will-they-won’t they-romantic relationship, which would require a re-write on this observation. Nonetheless this new-styled A-Team-in-Space will be a force to be reckoned with I’d say. Perhaps more time could have been allowed for the characters to question the fantastical events but the episode went for fast, fast and faster so hopefully later episodes will give us a chance to breath a tad more.

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Ultimately though, Doctor Who is thematically a show about hope, family, caring, inclusion and doing the right thing in space and time. It’s also meant to be a lot of fun. Chris Chibnall, as showrunner, hasn’t aside from casting a female Doctor, attempted to reinvent the wheel but instead concentrated on the strengths of the show.  He has demonstrated by the diverse castings, the opening Northern setting, and introduction of a dyspraxic character that inclusion will thrive, as usual, in the Doctor Who ‘Universe’. So, if this series delivers some fine emotional scripts with scary monsters, space-ships, aliens and some good old time-travel bits then BBC1 on Sunday evenings will certainly be worth watching. Unless you record the show and watch it in the future!  In which case the future is in safe hands too.

Mark: 8 out of 11

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW – absorbing self-hating misanthropic, Southern Gothic tale!

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Marti Noxon

Based on: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Marti Noxon, Gillian Flynn, Alex Metcalf, Vince Calandra etc.

Editors: David Berman, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée, Jai M. Vee

Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven, Henry Czerny, Taylor John Smith, Sophia Lillis, Elizabeth Perkins

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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As is often the case when a writer has a big hit producers and studios look at their back catalogue to see if there are any apples in the shade ripe for plucking. Thus, following the cinematic success of her book adaptation Gone Girl (2014), Gillian Flynn’s debut novel from 2006 is given a stylish, small-screen HBO treatment. The story concerns crime reporter Camille Preaker – Amy Adams on stunning form – who returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the murders of two girls. There she confronts a personal ordeal from the past, clashes with her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and attempts to bond with her precocious, teenage sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen).

Firstly, I must say Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Her performances in films such as: The Fighter (2010), American Hustle (2013), Arrival (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016) to name but a few, have demonstrated what a striking screen presence she has. Furthermore, she is able to illuminate a character’s emotion through sheer being; it’s almost effortless. But while she excels in serious roles, displaying both inner strength and vulnerability, she also has a sense of mischief and humour. Indeed, who better to evoke the pathos required to portray a character like Camille Preaker? Adams nails the alcoholic, self-harming, ex-psychiatric hospital patient role, refusing to suffer fools and using mordant wit to hide her pain.

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Camille’s assignment takes her back to a place she never wanted to go back to; drinking even more to further block out her inner turmoil. But, she has a vested family interest to find the killer of two missing girls, as her sister, Amma, knows the victims. Her inquisitive nature finds her locking horns with local cop played by Matt Craven; and forming a dysfunctional liaison with out-of-town investigator, Chris Messina. Being a small Southern town everyone has secrets to hide and out-of-towner Camille is not actually welcomed with open arms; not so much the Prodigal’s daughter but the outsider’s insider come to poke her nose where it doesn’t belong. Conflict further derives from external and internal grief that drives a feeling of gothic dread throughout. This is a story about abuse and neglect and the need to dominate through an overpowering sickness and poison. Dysfunctional humans harm others and themselves in order to get through the day.

Having watched a number of films and programmes dealing with the death or taking of children, this harrowing subject is becoming a real go-to for filmmakers and writers. Over eight episodes such crimes are melded with themes relating to: family secrets, mental illness, grooming, mutilation, addiction, suicide and sexual assault. As with Gillian Flynn’s aforementioned Gone Girl, the setting is not a happy place. Human beings do not come off that well either and are presented as very damaged personalities; or controlled and bullied by even more fucked up parents. However, as a brooding psychological thriller Sharp Objects is utterly absorbing and well worth a watch.

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I would argue that it moves too slow for eight episodes and is on occasions slightly repetitive, but Jean-Marc Vallee once again proves he is one of the best directors around gaining brilliant performances from Adams, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen especially. The editing also is very poetic, shifting beautifully from past to present and in between, charting a series of chilling, violent events. So, while it does have filler moments in the middle it is worth sticking with. Indeed, the end contains a great twist, which in my opinion, was delivered with way to much subtlety. Ultimately, if you like your dramas dark, elegant AND brutal then stick with it; because Sharp Objects cuts deep, way after the end credits have rolled.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2018) – SEASON 2 – TV REVIEW

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (S2) – TV REVIEW

Based On: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Writer(s): Bruce Miller, Dorothy Fortenberry, Yahlin Chang, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchmann

Director(s): Mike Barker, Kari Skogland, Jeremy Podeswa, Daina Reid etc.

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Samira Wiley

Release: Hulu (USA), Channel 4 (UK)

** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **

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Misery, fascism and oppression have never been so stylish as in the Margaret Atwood televisual adaptation of her famous novel The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t seen it then the story finds a major part of the U.S.A in the grip of a new, militarized and hierarchical regime following a brutal civil war. This new totalitarian state is called Gilead and is led by power-mad men who utilise religion, torture and weaponry to invoke their barbaric laws. Hang on, that sounds quite familiar!!  Could the show be quite close to real life? From a certain perspective there is indeed more reality here than allegory.

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At the centre of the drama are the Handmaids.  Due to falling fertility rates only certain women can give birth. Those that still can and considered to be dangerous to the Gilead hierarchy are imprisoned to the leaders’ houses and raped in a ritualistic monthly ordeal. The narrative focusses on the plight of June Osborne – now known as Offred / “Of Fred” – as she deals with having everything stripped away from her. She has no name, no identity, no freedom and above all else has been ripped away from her husband and child; only to be treated no better than a battery hen.

Elisabeth Moss gives an incredible performance as June / Offred. A versatile performer she imbues the complex pathos, strength and fragility required to convey the emotion of events within the story. The second season begins with a now pregnant June escaping from her captors. However, as the series progresses we know that she is not going to get away that easily. Because, this is a harsh drama. It doesn’t just smash home the viciousness of a society which oppresses women, it also illustrates the dangers of allowing fundamentalists to take total control. Executions by hanging and drowning are commonplace; and if you perpetually rebel an individual can be sent to The Colonies for a fate worse than death.

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While the themes and events are sometimes difficult to stomach The Handmaid’s Tale is compelling viewing. Be warned though when one is close to a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, that light is extinguished as darkness pervades. With a brilliant cast that includes Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes and the always-excellent Ann Dowd, this is not just powerful storytelling, it’s incredibly interesting to look at too. The maroons, greens, greys, blacks and whites in the colour scheme create a poetic sense of beauty and doom. The direction, editing, lighting and soundtrack serve the narrative expertly as Margaret Atwood’s dystopic future is illustrated skilfully.  Ultimately, in Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal of June Osborne we have a heroic and resilient character; one who, amidst all the suffering, is determined to survive and save those she loves. Praise be!

                     Mark: 9 out of 11