Tuesday 29 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Witch's Familiar ( review with spoilers )

OK, it's only two weeks into Series 9 of Doctor Who and my reviews are already running late. I could blame it on causal loops and collapsing timelines and all that jazz but it's actually just down to me not having enough time. Which is probably the same thing. I could really use a Tardis right now... and so could the Doctor. He's trapped on Skaro, surrounded by millions of Daleks, with no Tardis and no sonic, while Clara and Missy have apparently been exterminated before his eyes. Dark times indeed for our favourite Time Lord but is the sun about to rise?
The long-overdue return to the two-parter format gives this episode room to breathe, as opposed to so many Matt Smith-era episodes that felt tight and constricted and were over almost before they got going. This slower pace may not be to everyone's taste but I'm glad of the chance to see more character insight and dialogue-driven scenes. Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez sparkle in their moments together, their characters an odd couple who hate each other but are forced to work together to save the Doctor. Of course, Missy betrays Clara, seals her inside a Dalek casing and tries to persuade the Doctor to kill her / it, but the pairing of the Time Lady and the Impossible Girl is good, bitchy fun while it lasts.
 More serious, and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, are the scenes between Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach as the dying, but still devious, Davros. Touching on such subjects as genocide, the price of compassion and the reason for the Doctor's original escape from Gallifrey, these scenes are a fantastic showcase for two actors at the top of their game. Bleach even manages to convince you, just for a moment, that Davros can be redeemed as the dying scientist seems to reach out to the Doctor and to Skaro's rising sun.... but, of course, it's yet another trick, yet another trap, and the ages-old battle continues. After the Dalek city finally falls and the Tardis Team escape, Steven Moffatt's cleverly-constructed script turns back on itself and the Doctor once again returns to Skaro, to show mercy by saving the young Davros from a horrible fate, even if this act does guarantee the eventual creation of the Daleks. All in all, this is a great story which builds on the Fourth Doctor's "Have I that right...?" speech to give us a tough and challenging look at the characters of the Doctor and his arch enemies... and a brilliant dodgems joke...
So, I'm giving this one Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Daleks' "unmentionables" )

Soundtrack: Space Ritual by Hawkwind

Wednesday 23 September 2015

It's Boss Day again

Happy Birthday to the mighty Bruce Springsteen, 66 (!) today. Sparks fly on E Street...

Monday 21 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice ( review with spoilers )

"They built it again  -  they brought it back!"

Yes, Doctor Who is back for a ninth Series / thirty-fifth Season with Capaldi, Moffatt and Coleman still at the controls ( although that is set to change soon as the lovely Jenna moves on ) and the return of some very old enemies.
The story starts with the Doctor finding himself on a desolate, ruined planet where an ancient ( and familiar ) war is raging. A young boy, fleeing the fighting, is trapped by a suddenly growing field of "hand-mines" ( a superbly creepy visual, see above ) and begs for the Doctor's help. The young boy's name is Davros...

And with that revelation ( Of The Daleks heh heh ) we're off on a whirlwind adventure across the universe, taking in the sights of The Maldovarium, Karn, The Shadow Proclamation and, er, medieval Essex. The Doctor has gone missing from all time and space and hooded, serpentine bad guy Colony Ssarf is looking for him  -  he has a message to deliver: "Davrosss knowsss, Davrosss remembersss..."
Also looking for the Doctor are unlikely bedfellows ( stop it! ) Clara and Missy who reluctantly team up after the "not dead" Time Lady  has thrown all of Earth into a panic by time-stopping every airborne plane just to send a message to UNIT.
"We can't just phone the Doctor...he'll go Scottish..."
The pair finally track down the Doctor who apparently only has one more day to live and is throwing a party for himself... which is gate-crashed by old snakey who whisks them all off to a recreated Skaro for a confrontation with the dying creator of the Daleks...
And that's how breathless and incident-packed an episode this is. As promised, this opening story of the season has all the high-stakes, widescreen feel of a finale and is a far cry from the first episode "romps" of previous years. There are many things I loved about this episode: the odd pairing of Clara and Missy, the beautiful 60s-style Dalek city, Julian Bleach's dying but manipulative Davros, the nostalgic clips of old Doctors, Capaldi's portayal of the Doc's moral dilemma and shame, Hettie MacDonald's blockbuster direction, the gut-wrenching cliffhanger...
My only reservations are that Moffatt may be tinkering too much with the show's history ( but, then, it should never be too sacred and fixed  -  it's all about time travel after all ) and the scenes of the Doctor's party dip quickly from funny to cringe-worthy... but... overall this is a hugely confident and exciting return for the show and I can't wait to see what other treats are in store for us over the next three months.

I'll give this one Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Dalek "balls" )

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Things I haven't blogged about recently: Movies

Or, Of Reptiles, Rockets and a reduced Rudd...

I've seen a few films over the Summer which I haven't reviewed and which are all a bit old news now, frankly. So, I thought I'd just jot down ( blog down? post down? ) some quick thoughts about them before my ageing brain forgets them completely, starting with:
The latest stage in Marvel Studios' ongoing campaign for global cinematic conquest, starring him out of those sweary comedy films, him out of those pervy '80s films and her out of those Hobbit films. Well, Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lillly to be precise. Ant-Man, while probably just a shadow of the movie it could have been had wunderkind Edgar Wright stayed with the project, is still lots of fun. There's a knowing admission that actually the concept of the teeny hero is pretty laughable, but not so much that the film tips over into parody. The action scenes are inventive and often hilarious, while there are many references to previous micro-world films such as The Incredible Shrinking Man. Paul Rudd always comes across as charming and likeable so the role of repentant-burglar-turned-superhero is perfect for his talents. The other leads are all fine although Corey Stoll's evil businessman is a stereotyped villain we've seen far too many times. So, not a classic by any means but a worthy addition to the MCU and one which will lead nicely into Captain America: Civil War next year.

Jurassic World
You'd be forgiven for thinking that we'd travelled back to the 1980s this Summer, what with reboots of Mad Max, The Terminator and the above dino-saga all crashing back onto the screens in a bombastic, need-for-speed, sunglasses 'n' big hair kind of way. Well, 2015 is the year that Marty McFly went back to the future...
The latest version of Michael Crichton's high concept ( Dinosaur theme park with real dinosaurs! ) is true to the spirit of the '80s, in that it's very flashy and superficial with very little under the surface  -  apart from the occasional mosasaurus. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard run about the jungle, snarling at each other without a single memorable line of dialogue, while trying to save themselves and a couple of bratty kids from giant lizards. This is fitfully entertaining but really nothing we haven't seen before. Oh, apart from something called Indominus Rex  -  a giant, hybrid dinosaur with almost-human intelligence and stealth capabilities. Really. On the plus side, there is a nice tribute to the late Richard Attenborough and it's good to see the T-Rex regaining its mantle as the ultimate dinosaur in the film's closing moments.
Tomorrowland: A World Beyond 
 Director Brad Bird's wonderfully old-fashioned, retro Science Fiction spectacular may have been one of the biggest box office disappointments of recent years but it has more ideas and invention in its first 20 minutes than Jurassic World has in its entire running time. Star-to-be Britt Robertson plays Casey, an idealistic teen who can't accept that humanity has turned its back on space exploration, and who hooks up with curmudgeon-with-a-secret-past George Clooney when she discovers a key to another world. Tomorrowland has some stunning visuals  -  obviously inspired by the brightly optimistic covers of Golden Age pulp Science Fiction magazines, along with head-spinning action scenes, and a refreshingly upbeat attitude after all the recent silver screen dystopias. Clooney is his usual charismatic self, switching effortlessly between grumpy and charming at the drop of a space helmet, while Robertson is sparky and vivacious, easily a match for her big league co-star. And our own Hugh Laurie turns up as a smooth-talking villain too! It's a real shame that this film wasn't a success as I think it's one of the best original Science Fiction films of recent years. I'll definitely be buying the Blu-Ray when it comes out to again step into this shiny, big-hearted other world...
In complete contrast to all the above megabudget fare I also saw this heartbreaking documentary about the sadly-missed Amy Winehouse. Told exclusively through TV clips and found footage, with voiceovers from friends and colleagues, the film traces Amy's rise and tragic fall  -  from the talented teen, messing about with her mates, through the years of slogging around jazz clubs, to the megastardom and the problems that brought. Although her father ( who comes out of this in a very bad light ) has publicly attacked this documentary for misrepresenting Amy's life, it does present a clear picture of a prodigiously talented singer who is constantly led astray by hangers-on and ripped apart by depression and substance abuse. Not an easy watch by any means  -  the fantastic music, rare footage and lovely scenes of the young, aspiring Amy make it worthwhile, but I came out of the cinema feeling shell-shocked...

Soundtrack: Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
                    "Remember when you were young? / You shone like the sun..."

Friday 4 September 2015

FF Fridays: Bruce Timm Art

Of all modern comic book artists, Bruce Timm is probably the best at recapturing the simpler, brighter styles of the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics. His work has a charm and humour ( and very often a cheeky sensuality ) that is a refreshing change from so much of today's grim 'n' gritty comic art. Here are some properly groovy examples of his retro style as he takes on the fabulous FF and a few of their far-out friends and foes...


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