Sunday, 10 November 2013

Captain Phillips - Dir. Paul Greengrass

After his cargo ship is boarded by Somali pirates, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) enters into a battle of bravado and patience with the pirate captain Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Phillips wants to protect his crew, but Muse isn't leaving until his pockets are filled with riches.

It should come as no surprise to hear that a new Paul Greengrass film is nail-bitingly tense. The tension builds from the moment Hanks' Captain Phillips lands in Oman (after a brief setup back in the USA, more on that later) and steps on board the Maersk Alabama. Whilst the action may never reach the heights of the frantic Tangier chase in The Bourne Ultimatum or the destructive car chase at the end of The Bourne Supremacy, the sense of jeopardy never lets up. Even in the film's quieter moments, there's an ever present restlessness that gives greater relevance to every word that Phillips chooses to utter.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

2013: A Kubrickian Odyssey - Killer's Kiss

Throughout 2013, I shall be watching all of Stanley Kubrick's 13 feature films in chronological order. I'll discuss each film on here along with a handful of documentaries and short films. To read all the posts so far, click on the "Stanley Kubrick" tag at the end of this post.

Stanley Kubrick returned to the cinema screen, after the unfavourable experience of making Fear & Desire, with Killer's Kiss: a film noir about an ageing boxer who falls in love with his neighbour. Technically, the film is a vast improvement on the amateurish Fear & Desire, but there is sadly little else to recommend about Killer's Kiss.

The main problem is that there is nothing remotely interesting about the characters or the story. For all of its faults, Fear And Desire at least attempted to tell an interesting story; something that Killer's Kiss just doesn't do. Davey Gordon has little in his life worth fighting for; his modest boxing career is on a downward spiral and he spends his days doing very little. After losing his latest fight, he begins a relationship with his neighbour Gloria, a dancer who works at a club in the city. However, she is wary of the advances of her shady employer Vincent.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Pacific Rim (2013) - Dir. Guillermo del Toro

It's Monsters vs Machines in Guillermo del Toro's delightful big screen spectacle

We're over half way through the relentless onslaught of the summer blockbuster season. So far, Hollywood's multi-billion dollar bag o' tricks has produced one worthy conqueror (Iron Man 3), one crushing disappointment (Star Trek Into Darkness) and a mix of the usual mediocre franchises that are populating cinema screens year after year. The cinema screens need a saviour, someone or something to remind us how the term "blockbuster" was created. Wholeheartedly embracing that challenge are Guillermo del Toro and the giant humanoid machines of Pacific Rim.

Planet Earth is being terrorized by extra-dimensional monsters known as Kaiju who emerge from a portal at the bottom of the ocean. Faced with this unfathomable threat, humans build hulking humanoid machines known as Jaegers to battle the Kaiju. When it appears that the Kaiju have been temporarily defeated, the Jaeger program is abandonned in favour of constructing a giant wall to keep the Kaiju at bay. However when the Kaiju return stronger and bigger, and demolish the protecting wall, the world turns to the ageing Jaeger program to defeat the Kaiju once and for all.

Whilst that may sound like a lot to take in, del Toro deals with this background information in a swift opening sequence which neatly establishes Pacific Rim's own vision of the future. A more traditional route would start the film with the first Kaiju invasion and follow on from there. Pacific Rim isn't interested in beginnings; it politely doffs its cap to the necessary setup as it marches straight towards the last stand, the final boss level. Pacific Rim knows exactly what it has to deliver (giant monsters and machines knocking seven bells out of each other) and Guillermo del Toro delivers this in spades whilst also managing to introduce and give satisfying story arcs to the characters on screen.

Image courtesy of

Saturday, 6 July 2013

2013: A Kubrickian Odyssey - Fear And Desire

Throughout 2013, I shall be watching all of Stanley Kubrick's 13 feature films in chronological order. I'll discuss each film on here along with a handful of documentaries and short films. To read all the posts so far, click on the "Stanley Kubrick" tag at the end of this post.

Prior to his death, Stanley Kubrick had attempted to keep Fear And Desire film out of circulation. He described it as the work of an amateur and reportedly acquired as many copies of the film as he could. In many ways, he was right to distance himself from this film; it demonstrates his inexperience and often descends in a pretentious mess. However, there are a handful of interesting things about it and it is arguably one of his most important films.

A fighter plane has crashed behind enemy lines and the four surviving soldiers must make their way  out of the hostile territory. Their plans are sidetracked when a young girl stumbles upon the group.

2013: A Kubrickian Odyssey - Introduction

I have quite a few notable gaps in my film viewing. Fight Club, Schindler's List, Goodfellas, Apocalypse Now; just a handful of films that any self-respecting film fan should have seen. I've also yet to see any film of many notable directors; Kurosawa, Hawks, Altman, Fellini, Bergman. I'm constantly trying to fill in the gaps, but there are only so many hours in the day.

One of the most prominent omissions in my opinion is that I have seen so few of Stanley Kubrick's films. Widely regarded as one of the most gifted and talented directors, Kubrick could not be pigeonholed and left behind an incredibly varied filmography. Yet despite this status, I have only seen one of his sixteen films: The Shining. I also watched a lot of Spartacus during Latin lessons at school (one of the the benefits of a classical education). This was not due to any specific reason; the right opportunity had never presented itself (as a film fan, it's no easy feat to keep up with modern releases as well as exploring the films on offer from the 20th century).

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Doctor Who - The Name Of The Doctor

A superb finale that provides satisfying resolution and generates fevered anticipation for the show's 50th anniversary

After what's been an unspectacular run of episodes, there was a lot of pressure resting on this episode, show runner Steven Moffat and this season as a whole. Thankfully this episode not only ensured this season's place in the show's history, but it re-invigorated the show just in time for its 50th anniversary.

Within the ramblings of mad man, Madame Vastra hears a word that she knows to hold a great significance to The Doctor; Trenzalore. She calls together a group of The Doctor's closest friends to help him in his hour of need.

It's a low-key opening that neatly brings the characters together and establishes the significance of the threat. The Whispermen, all teeth and no eyes, rudely interrupt the conference. If we were in any doubt of the raised stakes, the Whispermen kill Jenny without a second's thought. Although she is ultimately revived, Steven Moffat takes this episode into a darker territory that has been missing from most of this season's adventures.

The Doctor's grave... sort of (picture courtesy of

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Doctor Who - Nightmare In Silver

Neil Gaiman's second Doctor Who episode is lazy, irritating and uninspiring. 

Last week's The Crimson Horror ended on an unexpected note. Clara's time travelling exploits had been uncovered by Angie and Artie, demanding a trip in the TARDIS in exchange for their silence. The biggest worry with children on TV shows is that they can be terribly annoying and are often used to initiate plot strands. In The Walking Dead, Rick and Lori's son Carl was forever wandering off and turning up at the most opportune moment, often at the expense of any character development. Sadly Neil Gaiman falls into that exact trap.

Thinking he's onto a winner, The Doctor takes Angie and Artie to the biggest theme park in the universe, Hedgewick's World Of Wonders. Well it used to be, but the planet has since been quarantined after several attacks from Cybermen. When The Doctor is partially upgraded by the mysterious Cyber Planner, he has to battle the Cyber Planner in a game of chess with the universe at stake.

Erm... no thanks. I'll stick to Free Cell. image courtesy of

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Doctor Who - The Crimson Horror

A very silly, strange and lightweight episode that's a whole lot of fun

A few weeks ago, Mark Gatiss delivered his best Doctor Who episode to date (Cold War). The Crimson Horror, whilst not perfect, is now the owner of that accolade.

Set in 19th Century Yorkshire, The Crimson Horror is an unrestrained slice of twisted fun. Bodies are turning up in the river, except the flesh on the bodies has developed a deep red colouring. Local factory owner Mrs Gillyflower (Diana Rigg) is offering the chance of salvation from this disturbing fate, which has been dubbed the Crimson Horror by the people, in her idyllic village compound known as Sweetville; a place where only the best are welcome.

Past seasons of Doctor Who have attempted to lighten the workload of the Doctor and his companion by writing episodes which feature only one of the pair e.g. Midnight, Turn Left or episodes which leave them out of the action for most of the running time e.g. Blink. This truncated season can't really afford to apply this tactic over a full episode, but The Crimson Horror is noteworthy in that neither The Doctor or Clara appear on screen for the first 14 minutes.

Doctor Who - Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS

A nerd-tastic set up manages to stay the right side of plausible

With any story which explores a previously unexplained aspect of a show's mythology, there's always the possibility that whatever revelation that is made will anger more than it might please. Or to put it more succinctly, the Midichlorian problem from Star Wars.

The Doctor and Clara are meandering across space when they get caught by a passing salvage ship. The damaged TARDIS lands on board the salvage vessel (manned by the Van Balen brothers), and Clara is nowhere to be found. After trapping the crew inside the TARDIS and activating a self-destruct timer, the episode is ready to explore the previously unexplored mysteries of the TARDIS.

The salvage of a lifetime. (image courtesy of

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 8

It's a case of the good, the bad and the inevitable as Broadchurch reaches an end

After several weeks of speculation and anticipation, the Broadchurch killer has been revealed. The finale was a reminder of how good Broadchurch has been in moments, but it also demonstrates how infuriating the show has been at times.

Starting with the inevitable, it was no surprise that Joe Miller was revealed to be the killer. At the end of the day, it followed the route of almost every CSI episode; the killer being somebody who's in the episode, but never at the forefront. It's been done a thousand times before and, despite all of the crackpot theories circulating on the internet, was an unspectacular revelation. In the few hours leading up to the episode's broadcast, one of the show's producers had said that everyone should watch to the very end of the episode. Some people took this as a suggestion that there was a shocking twist at the end of the hour. As such, when there was no big twist, many felt disappointed. To me, the comment was an indication that the killer would be revealed early on and so the producer was encouraging people not just to switch off as soon as Joe was arrested (why would you stop watching if the killer hadn't been revealed?). Personally, the inclusion of an outrageous twist would have been unfaithful to the show's more low key approach to a murder mystery. The inevitability was the lesser of the two evils.

The Broadhurch killer behind bars a door with a hole in it

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Doctor Who - Hide Review

There's some spooky 'n' scary goings on in this excellent "ghost" story

Neil Cross' return to Doctor Who, after an absence of just 1 week, with a much less divisive episode than The Rings Of Akhaten (though I was much more positive about it than many others). Hide is an episode which finds the balance between the divisive whimsy of Akhaten and the steady ground of Cold War, and is the best episode of this 2013 run so far.

Hide is assuringly old fashioned in its set-up. A pair of ghost hunters are working in haunted house in the 1970s. The illusive spectre is most definitely with them, but never hangs around for long. The Doctor and Clara show up to try and solve the mystery of the Witch of the Well.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 7

Broadchurch approaches its denouement at an encouraging pace.

That's more like it. Broadchurch has often struggled to balance the investigation and dramatic aspects of its story, but this penultimate episode found the desired equilibrium.

After collapsing at the end of last week's episode, DI Alec Hardy's secret illness is out in the open. DS Miller is naturally both furious and worried (mostly furious). It would appear that Hardy is on his last legs, which makes finding the culprit even more urgent. In Hardy's temporary absence, DS Miller gets her chance to shine as she attempts to rally the troops. While Hardy's near constant berating of Miller throughout the series was a little over the top, it's forced Miller to toughen up and probably made her into a better detective. If Hardy does leave/die, DS Miller is now much better suited for the job than she was in episode 1.

In the suspect's chair this week was the ever suspicious looking Susan Wright. As I said last week, handing over the skateboard was a very stupid thing to do if you were the killer, almost certainly confirming that she isn't the killer. After some lies and half truths, Susan reveals why she's in Broadchurch and what is going on with Nige. After the unravelling of Jack Marshall's troubled past earlier in the series, Susan's story is perhaps a little too familiar to make a unique impact. However, it is wonderfully acted by Pauline Quirke and gives depth to a character which desperately needed some. She recalls a morning walk along the beach where she saw a man placing Danny's body on the beach. That man was Nige Carter (or was it? More on that later).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Doctor Who - Cold War Review

Mark Gatiss' chilly thriller falls just short of greatness

After last week's divisive The Rings Of Akhaten, Cold War finds Doctor Who on much more familiar ground. Familiar, but wonderfully entertaining.

It's 1983 and a Soviet submarine crew uncover what they believe to be a mammoth. Except it's very much not a mammoth, it's a Martian Ice Warrior. Living underneath the ice for nearly 5000 years, the Ice Warrior is lost and confused. The Doctor and Clara arrive just in time to see the Russian crew provoke the Ice Warrior, turning the proud soldier into a very dangerous foe. Last year, Doctor Who delivered an episode called Dinosaurs On A Spaceship, and Cold War could easily be re-titled Alien On A Submarine as not only does the episode take place within the confines of the underwater vessel, but it bears a significant resemblance to Ridley Scott's 70's masterpiece (Alien).

It's behind you... and slightly to your right

Monday, 15 April 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 6

The people of Broadchurch try to return to normality following another death

After last week's magnificent episode that dealt with the harassment and death of Jack Marshall, it was expected that this episode would struggle to live up to what went before. Even with that consideration, this episode of Broadchurch really tested my patience.

With each passing episode that reveals next to nothing about the case, the likelihood of Broadchurch providing a satisfying conclusion diminishes. The main problem is that it's trying to juggle too many suspects. With all that juggling going on, none of the suspects really feel like they could legitimately be considered as suspects. Given that not a lot of people have been definitively ruled out, there's still the possibility that Chris Chibnall could pluck a murderer out of thin air and pull the rug from under all of the series' work so far. Look no further than Joe Miller, Olivia Colman's nice and cheery husband. He's currently one of the audience's favourite suspects despite there being not a single shred of evidence to back up the claims. However, we haven't seen any evidence that can rule him out of the running. People are suspicious of him because he hasn't done anything suspicious. When you think about it, that's kind of ridiculous, but this is what happens when a programme's audience picks apart every detail shown on screen.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Doctor Who - The Rings Of Akhaten Review

The Doctor and Clara's latest adventure is thematically rich despite a thin plot

Last week's installment ended with Clara describing the leaf in the pages of her book as "page 1"; the comment went unexplained. I eventually thought nothing of it and was pleasantly surprised to see it brought up again so quickly. The Rings of Akhaten not only allowed Clara to demonstrate her worthiness as a companion, but explored themes of fear, loss and religion.

The Rings of Akhaten (or Indiana Jones and The Sunshine X-Factor as it could be called) started with a sweet prologue which charted the story of the leaf and its importance. The leaf brought together Clara's mother (originally named Ellie Ravenwood. Ravenwood as in Marion Ravenwood from Indiana Jones) and father, and is of significant emotional value to Clara. Not only does this help to develop Clara as a character,  but plays a pivotal role in the episode's conclusion.

The Doctor and Clara explore the alien market.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 5

The best episode of the series is a haunting glimpse of a very troubled man

I've said in my previous two reviews how Broadchurch had raised its game from those opening episodes, but this episode was something very special indeed. With the police investigation taking a back seat in this episode, for the most part (more on that later), this episode focuses on the community's reaction to the accusations surrounding newsagent Jack Marshall.

Poor Jack Marshall; a man who has done so much to escape his past, only to have it uncovered by scoop-hungry reporters. It's important to note that, in the eyes of the law, Jack was a paedophile and that he served his sentence. Yet as with many cases, the sentence alone does not represent the whole picture. Writer Chris Chibnall drip feeds Jack Marshall's story throughout the episode, and gives David Bradley the stand out scenes of the series so far. After building our suspicions at the end of last week's episode, Chibnall slowly shatters them over the hour. This culminated in a fantastic scene which pointed its finger firmly at the newspapers. Beth and Mark put aside their marital problems to look back on the photos and mementos from Danny's childhood and remember their son in happier times. Meanwhile, Jack catches a glimpse of the morning's headlines and sees how his most personal and heartfelt memories have been taken away from him. One family has the luxury of privacy; the other is put on display for the whole world to pass judgement.

It certainly wasn't a subtle moment, but Broadchurch had earned the chance to tug at our emotions. The very early episodes had attempted similar scenes, but without the emotional investment that comes with spending more time with the characters.

Alec Hardy confronts Jack Marshall
Whilst the press were the main target of the episode, it was the bigwigs back in London who were painted as the evil-doers, and not the investigative pair of Karen and Olly. They are very much a pair after the most inevitable hookup of the series happened. With focus of the blame pointed at the off screen newspaper executives, the commentary on newspaper journalism feels less scathing than if Karen and Olly were responsible. Though I can accept that the portrayal of newspapers' involvement in such cases seen in Broadchurch is probably more accurate, I also know that not all journalists and newspapers behave in such a manner.

Karen and Olly are two of the more underdeveloped characters on Broadchurch (in particular Olly who's so horribly gullible that he could probably convince himself that he was the murderer if he tried to). Elsewhere, Beth and Mark attempted to work out their marital problems, showcasing excellent work from both Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan. Beth also lashed out at Becca's supply of crisps and glassware, and Arthur Darvill was on hand to supply witty one liners as well as allowing Broadchurch to talk about religion and God's will. When not rounding up the locals to gang up on Jack, Nige was attempting to pay off Susan who was having none of it. As a result, apart from ruling out Jack, we're no closer to discovering the identity of Danny's killer. With only 3 episodes to go, the investigation really needs to pick up the pace.

The silent vigil for Danny Latimer
That conveniently brings me to the problems with Broadchurch's barely functional police department. There's no sense of a methodical approach to the investigation, nor a sense of how leads are picked up. It's understandable that the locals are angry at the lack of progress being made by the police, and so jump on Jack Marshall as his history begins to surface. Chloe Latimer is particularly upset and rightly has a go at Pete the pointless support officer. Chibnall probably made a distinct choice not to get too caught up in the day to day workings of the police officers, but he hasn't included enough to make them appear believable. At the end of last week's episode, there was the suggestion that Jack Marshall might have been involved in a similar case in a different town many years ago. Yet in this episode, it is revealed that the two cases are very clearly not connected. Any competent police officer could surely have worked this out within seconds. Chibnall is seemingly happy to trade competent police work for silly cliffhangers.

The silliest of all of the police's decisions was to use Tom Miller in the reconstruction. The idea of a respectful vigil is fine, but having the deceased's best friend lead a reconstruction is too ridiculous. The only justification for using him would be if Hardy had his suspicions about Tom after the interview, and was interested to see how Tom reacted during the reconstruction. Hopefully, we'll soon find out just what it is causing Tom to be so restless.

Despite these small problems, Broadchurch produced an hour of unmissable television this week, and hopefully will continue on a run of good episodes through to its conclusion.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Doctor Who - The Bells Of St. John Review

The Doctor makes his return to our screens with a new TARDIS, a new look and a new companion

So here we are; part two of season 7 of the reboot of Doctor Who. Got that? Good. Whilst season 6 was a season of 2 halves, season 7 is very much two mini seasons. As such, The Bells Of St. John should be seen as a season opener, and whilst they never tend to be the best of episodes; their main aim is to successfully introduce the new companion or Doctor. I'm pleased to say that The Bells Of St. John worked very well indeed.

Only Doctor Who could follow a teaser about the dangers of Wi-fi with a trip to 13th century Cumbria. Here we find The Doctor contemplating the impossible girl, Clara Oswin Oswald. Moments later the TARDIS phone begins to ring and The Doctor has found his impossible girl once again.

Jenna Lousie Coleman as Clara Oswald
After 2 and a half seasons of Amy Pond, or Amy and Rory, it was important to establish Clara as a sufficiently different companion. For Amy, The Doctor was a figure of her childhood; deemed to be imaginary by those around her. With Clara, there is no such emotional connection and, to her, The Doctor is a odd man with a snog box. The ease with which Clara and The Doctor interact is delightful. Clara is not afraid to point out the ridiculousness of a two hearted time travelling alien with a blue telephone box. Steven Moffat also ensures to establish Clara as someone who values her responsibilities to the family she is looking after and is not ready to leave behind those who depend on her.

As we've come to expect from Moffat era Doctor Who stories, this opening episode refers back to the glimpses of Clara from The Asylum Of The Daleks and The Snowmen, as well as hinting at what might be in store for the next 8 episodes. Why are the years 16 and 23 missing from Clara's book? What is the significance of the book written by one Amelia Williams? And who was the women who gave Clara the number for the TARDIS phone? Many have complained about the overly complicated plotting of recent seasons (season 6 in particular), but it's refreshing to see populist, family entertainment that demands your full attention.

Matt Smith in his new look TARDIS
The actual mystery of the week feels a little too familiar to fully work. Using technology to control people and feed on their souls is alarmingly similar to The Idiot's Lantern from series 2. However, it did offer both Smith and Coleman their moments to shine. Celia Imrie is a sufficiently vicious and maniacal ("Actually he's about to go on holiday; kill him when he gets back. Let's not be unreasonable."). The set pieces are entertaining enough and there is enough humour to hide the somewhat convenient resolution to the evil plan.

Most importantly however, The Bells Of St. John is a whole lot of fun and it is a great pleasure to have Doctor Who back on our Saturday nights.

Doctor Who returns to BBC1 next Saturday at 6.15pm in 'The Rings Of Akhaten'.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 4

At the halfway mark, Broadchurch is making good on its initial promise

I've been quite critical on some of the more minor aspects of Broadchurch in the opening episodes. It says a lot about the quality of this episode that those annoyances didn't bother me as much.

First of all, it turns out Alec Hardy is in fact a human being and not a grumpy crime solving android. Hurrah! After initially turning his nose up at the prospect of dinner at the Miller residence, Hardy not only enjoys himself but he starts to open up a little. He's clearly a troubled man, but now we're starting to understand some of what's troubling him. After collapsing in his hotel room, he wakes up in hospital with hotelier Becca at his side. Whilst she is slightly amused at having to pretend to be his wife, Hardy is instantly concerned about keeping the incident under wraps.

Alec Hardy and his "wife" Becca

Elsewhere, Karen has stepped up her game in pursuit of a story. After 3 weeks of gently speaking to the townsfolk, Karen offers support to the Latimer family; suggesting that a national news story might aid the discovery of Danny's killer. Obviously it also brings more news hungry journalists and snap happy paparazzi who swarm around the grieving family like students at careers fair offering free pizza. Their actions are slightly exaggerated but the overall tone of their intrusive involvement in such cases is accurate (and something I strongly dislike).

Ambitious reporter Olly also does some light detective work and uncovers an unpleasant secret in newsagent Jack Marshall's past. It turns out Marshall was convicted of a under-age sex offence several decades ago and lived close to a town which has an unsolved case (from the time when Marshall lived there) with strong similarities to the Broadchurch murder. He also conveniently finds Danny's mobile phone at the bottom of a newspaper bag. Whilst this makes Marshall the clear suspect for the police; there is still a lack of hard, irrefutable evidence which means he almost certainly won't be the murderer.

I think that writer Chris Chibnall is developing a much more interesting scenario which reflects on the sensationalist side of  journalism. Olly's work  is an example of lazy and irresponsible  journalism which distorts the truth and makes assumptions in the chase for a eye catching headline. Just this week, newspapers reported the story of how Helen Mirren took issue with Sam Mendes and the fact his list of inspirational film makers didn't include a single woman. Except Mirren wasn't having a go at Mendes; she was merely using his list as an example of how few prominent female directors there are in the film industry (a fair and worthy comment). However for some newspapers this wasn't interesting enough, so they implied a confrontational side to the story which twisted the actual motive of Mirren's speech; all in aid of generating an attention grabbing headline. Sorry about that mini rant, but hopefully it highlights my point.

Hardy and Miller keeping a watchful eye on proceedings
Having effectively ruled out Jack, you would think that the list of suspects would be down to a manageable number. Wrong. Plumber Nige gets into a confrontation with the menacing Susan Wright over a shared secret whilst psychic Steve was sent packing as the police told Beth of his dodgy past. However, the character we really need to talk about is Kevin.

Kevin was the postman (seen in episode two) who had supposedly been seen having an argument with Danny Latimer. Jack Marshall recalls seeing the argument and informs the police. As I stated in my review of that episode, the fact that we are shown Jack stumbling across the argument implies that it actually happened. It's simply a matter of Broadchurch following the rules it has set out for itself. Other occasions of Broadchurch characters recalling memories have not including any shots of the event being recalled. The only reason I can think that this particular shot was included is to hide the transition of the characters moving into the shop (this makes a lot more sense if you rewatch the moment). If it turns out to just be a red herring, then that is a little bit of a cheat; a deliberate deception to trick the audience.

Despite the argument getting a passing mention week, only time will tell whether Kevin's argument with Danny becomes relevant. As ever, the acting was top notch and I'm accepting Broadchurch's visual style and over-reliance on slow motion; at least it's distinctive.

For me, this episode represented an even more significant shift in quality than the step up seen in last week's episode. Then again, I could've just been in a forgiving mood because those those infernal river cruise adverts have disappeared (for now).

Monday, 25 March 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 3

Broadchurch delivers its best episode so far in week 3

Apologies for this somewhat belated and truncated review of the 3rd instalment of Broadchurh. As my previous reviews indicate, I have been enjoying Broadchurch so far, despite it's flaws. Whilst there were still some problems in this episode, I found it to be the most satisfying of the lot.

Beth tries to cope with the boredom that comes from waiting for news. She cleans the house and tries to go back to work, only to be turned away by her caring but overprotective boss. She also meets the friendly neighbourhood psychic Steve, who claims to have a message for her from Danny. Beth's initial disgust at Steve claims soon develops into curiosity. Yet despite his best intentions, Steve's message may have caused more problems for the Latimer family. As with last week's episodes, the scenes with Steve were the best of the episode.

Beth (Jodie Whitaker): the grieving mother and suspicious wife 
The revelation of Mark's affair was not surprising but it was well played. Rather than telling the truth, he attempted to give backing to his story and asked his mate Nigel to provide an alibi. He knows that as soon as the police find out, the story will spread around the small community. The outpouring of guilt and shame was heartfelt and very convincing (unlike Nigel's story).

I was less convinced by the hastiness of Beth's accusation. The seed of doubt had been growing ever since Mark's arrest and Steve's message from beyond, but to jump to the accusation of murder so quickly felt unnatural. Though I guess it was going to happen eventually so it doesn't bother me too much. Furthermore, watching Mark willingly go back to his lover somewhat cheapened his admission to adultery earlier in the episode.

Alec Hardy is still being a sulky so and so, though we do learn a little more about his past when he opens up to a friend. Unfortunately, the disrespect he shows to DS Miller has become too full on and far-fetched. He argues unnecessarily, criticises her every move and turns his nose up at her kind gestures. It's borderline ridiculous. He also makes the outrageous suggestion of using DS Miller's son, the victim's best friend,  in a reconstruction. He's miserable but he may also be a miserable idiot.

Broadchurch is still meandering along, but some of the pieces are starting to fall into place.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 2

Murder mystery is moving forward, albeit rather slowly

Opening episodes are always tricky to get right. The tone has to be set whilst also delivering enough intrigue to ensure the viewer tunes in for the next episode. On the basis of this second episode, Broadchurch has settled into the groove formed in the opening hour.

More suspects are introduced this week but some have yet to be developed into fully rounded characters. Pauline Quirke gets to say and do suspicious things, a step up from her looking suspicious moments last week. Arthur Darvill gets another post Doctor Who role (following his brief appearance in The Paradise) as the local priest who has to help the town come to terms with the tragedy. Most intriguingly, Steve Connolly (Will Mellor) is a telephone engineer who claims that he receives messages from the dead. This type of character is something I've always liked and I hope that Broadchurch develops his character and his "abilities" further. 

Mellor also achieves the near miraculous feat of drawing more than one emotion out of DI Alec Hardy. Hardy explodes in frustrated anger at Steve's claims which made a change from his default state of sulking broodiness. I don't mind that Hardy isn't a character were meant to warm to (yet?), but the range of the character still feels somewhat narrow.

Steve Connolly (Will Mellor), psychic or fraudster?
As with last week, most of the more lively acting comes from Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker. Whittaker becomes frustrated and takes a trip to the supermarket to get out of the house. She walks through the supermarket, aware of the eyes following her around the store. She reaches the cereal aisle and begins to breakdown when she sees COCO POPS, presumably Danny's favourite cereal. So unsubtle (COCO POPS) was the use of this flavour of cereal, that the heartfelt nuance was taking second place in the scene. It was well acted by Whittaker and the overall tone of the moment was well judged, but the execution (COCO POPS) was a bit off.

This episode also featured one glaring piece of shoddy police work. A postman is questioned after newsagent Jack Marshall (David Bradley) recalls seeing an argument between him and Danny Latimer. The postman denies this allegation and is later found to have an alibi for the night of the murder. In this case one person must be lying; yet Hardy and Miller don't attempt to deduce who, unless they've decided that the newsagent innocently imagined the incident. However, the fact that we see the argument on screen as Jack recounts the events suggests that it did take place.

David Bradley as newsagent Jack Marshall
As with last week's episode, my main problem with Broadchurch is the way in which the audience uncovers information in relation to the investigating officers. Danny's skateboard is seen in the cupboard of Pauline Quirke's caravan, but police don't know this yet. Why do the audience need to know this right now? Surely it would be a lot better to reveal this as and when the police discover it. It sucks so much of the intrigue out of the drama and places the viewer one step ahead of the police.

The episode ends with the finger firmly pointed at Danny's dad Mark. The only problem with this rather pointless cliffhanger is that there are still 6 episodes left so it's clearly not going to be him, unless someone else is involved.

Broadchurch is definitely still entertaining and well made television (despite the overuse of sssssslllllloooooowwwww mooootttiiiooonnn) but I don't think it's as revolutionary as many are suggesting.

Broadchurch is on ITV at 9pm on Monday nights.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Bond 24 - The Poison Chalice

Why Sam Mendes passed on Bond 24. Plus a potential short list of successors

(Massive spoilers for
Skyfall, obviously.)

Even with the best will in the world, I don't think EON producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli would've predicted the extent of Skyfall's success. The previous two outings took $586 million and $599 million at the box office, but Skyfall's $1.1 billion makes it the 3rd largest gross for a non 3D film (behind Return Of The King and Titanic's initial 1997 release).

Therefore, it's entirely understandable why everybody wanted Skyfall director Sam Mendes back on board. The problem is, Skyfall has left the franchise in a somewhat precarious position.

With Skyfall, Mendes got to do things no other Bond director has done. He got to kill off M, bring old characters back into the series and with the 50th anniversary falling in the same year; he got to explore whether Bond's old fashioned approach still had a place in the 21st century. It was these factors which allowed Skyfall to stand out from many of the other films. However, these things cannot be done again for another 10 years (depending on how long Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw want to be involved). The next director has the almost thankless task of having to follow all of that with a more typical Bond adventure.

Sam Mendes working with Daniel Craig on the set of Skyfall
Daniel Craig's Bond films are very different to almost all of the previous 20. Casino Royale explored the character's origins and the tragic love affair with Vesper. Quantum of Solace dealt with Bond's loss of Vesper but suffered from production troubles. In Skyfall, Bond loses one of his closest allies. Only On Her Majesty's Secret Service (or at a stretch Licence To Kill) have comparably themes.

Daniel Craig has yet to do a "normal" Bond film. That's not to say he should settle for emotionless action romps, but it's too soon to have him fall in love again and killing anyone off would be too similar to Skyfall. Personally, I think a strong conflict between Bond and Ralph Fiennes' M would be a good character arc to explore. Will Bond have to change his ways if Fiennes isn't as chummy as Dench was?

So really, it's going to be a difficult task for whoever takes over. With the producers aiming for an autumn 2014 release date, story and script decisions are going to have be made fairly quickly. Whilst the financial troubles at MGM hampered the production of Skyfall, the script must have benefited from the extra time.

For Mendes, the prospect of having to top (or at least match) Skyfall was probably too daunting; particularly with several other projects on the go. Mendes is clearly a man who values the quality of his work over its quantity. By passing on Bond (for now at least) he can focus all of his attention on these commitments, in the knowledge that he delivered the most successful Bond film of all time.

Who's next?

With Mendes out of the picture, Broccoli and Wilson have an ocean of talent to pick from. Or do they? Presuming the 2014 release date is correct, the list of contenders might be shorter than they would've liked. Instant advantage given to any British directors.

Update 09/03/2013 - Christopher Nolan is going to direct Interstellar, which is due for release in November 2014. Despite his incredible talent, I don't think he could direct Bond 24 as well; so he can now be ruled out of the running. I'll leave him on the list because most of what I said applies for Bond 25 and beyond.

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow on the set of Zero Dark Thirty
My personal choice would be the supremely talented Kathryn Bigelow. In Zero Dark Thirty (which I will eventually stop talking about), she crafted one of the best thrillers in recent memory. Throw in the success of The Hurt Locker and the cult popularity of films like Point Break; Bigelow could easily handle the scale and scope of a Bond film. In recent interviews, she has said to have nothing lined up in the near future; citing exhaustion after the tight turnaround on Zero Dark Thirty. Given the controversy surrounding her last film, something as apolitical as Bond might be a welcoming task.

Matthew Vaughn

As the director of Layer Cake, Vaughn must be able to take some of the credit for Daniel Craig getting the Bond job. Mendes was recruited by Craig so, providing they enjoyed working together, Craig might suggest Vaughn for the job. With Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class on his resume, Vaughn has shown he can handle big action films. However, his availability might be the deciding issue. He's currently working on the next X-Men film, an adaptation of the comic book The Secret Service as well as rebooting the Silver Surfer; most of which are big studio commitments that would be difficult to get out of.

Joe Wright

Hanna proved that Wright can turn in a splendid action flick when he's not busy doing literary adaptations.  Pride & Prejudice and Atonement were both well received but the critical reaction on The Soloist and Anna Karenina was somewhat cooler. He has style and flair to spare but has he forced himself too far into the costume drama corner to be considered a candidate?

Christopher Nolan with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of Inception
Christopher Nolan (See above)

Nolan is known to be a big fan of Bond, and you can see that influence in many of his films. However, he hasn't directed a script that he (or his brother) didn't write in over 10 years and is clearly most comfortable working from his own material. He's also just lost his trusted DP (Wally Pfister) and might not want to jump onto a film of such scale with a new DP. 3 of his last 5 films were of the same story and Inception was not too dissimilar either so I would like to see him do something radically different. However if he does want it, the job is probably his.

Tomas Alfredson

Alfredson has two critically acclaimed films (though I personally didn't care much for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) under his belt and is reportedly not actively working on anything at the moment. However, he's probably not proven enough (particularly with action) to be seriously considered.

Rupert Wyatt

Wyatt has made two very good films: The Escapist and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and showed with the latter that he can handle a large scale blockbuster. However, aside from a couple of shorts, that's all he's done. Definitely one for the future.

Martin Campbell

Directed two superb Bond films already (Goldeneye and Casino Royale) and would be a safe pair of hands to carry on the franchise. His last film was The Green Lantern which failed both critically and commercially, so Campbell might perhaps welcome a return to the Bond scene.

Joseph Gordon Levitt, Rian Johnson and an intimidating camera on the set of Looper
Rian Johnson

Johnson has written and directed 3 very different and successful films. He's also put in sterling work on Breaking Bad and Terriers. However like Nolan, he seems to be happy working on his own material.

Ralph Fiennes

This is an interesting option. He made his debut with the well directed Coriolanus which mixed drama with some action. Providing he doesn't have too much to do in front of the camera, Fiennes could easily manage the workload. Though with only one film under his directorial belt, Bond 24 might be a bit too soon.

And finally, some other names who are either just too busy at the moment or can be ruled out for other reasons:

Brad Bird (Tomorrowland), Duncan Jones (World Of Warcraft), J.J. Abrams (Star the other one... oh ok both of them), David Michod (The Rover), Quentin Tarantino (not gonna happen), Sir Ridley Scott (too difficult), Danny Boyle (stayed away from big budgets ever since The Beach).

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 1

A few thoughts on the opening episode of ITV's new crime drama

In this post The Killing televisual landscape, crime thrillers have their work cut out to bring something new to the genre. Despite its poor start, Broadchurch shows signs of have something to offer in this opening episode.

Set in a coastal Dorset town, Broadchurch centres around the suspicious death of an 11 year old boy, Danny Latimer (Adam Wilson). DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Miller (Olivia Colman) are tasked with solving the mystery whilst this small close knit town comes to terms with the tragedy.

Olivia Colman & David Tennant in Broadchurch
The first 15 minutes of Broadchurch were really quite frustrating. Small niggling inaccuracies that shouldn't have bothered me were too strange to ignore. When Danny doesn't turn up at the school sports day, no one contacts the parents to find out where he is. A journalist returns from the sports day and is told to "get yourself some fresh air" a few minutes later. I couldn't help notice these things because Broadchurch's overly stylish opening hadn't captured my attention like it should've done.

A little slow-motion camera work goes a long way but Broadchurch deployed it every few minutes. The laughable slow motion run down a congested road was followed moments later by a slow motion run onto the beach. Over bearing music accompanied overly staged shots of people looking and thinking every five minutes. Every use of these techniques served only to diminish their impact.

After the worrying start, Broadchurch began to find its feet. The amount of talent in front of the camera is astonishing. David Tennant brings a moody and troubled aura to his 'big city cop in small town' character. When she's not running in slow motion, Jodie Whittaker shines as the grieving mother who begins to question her husband's movements on the night of the tragedy. Olivia Colman looks to have a great role as the local cop. She has a lot to do in this opening episode and it will be interesting to see how her character develops as many of her friends and family are potential suspects.

Vicky McClure in Broadchurch
Aside from the mystery itself, Broadchurch looks to have something to say about the involvement of the press and media during such cases. One of the more surprising moments came towards the end of the episode where journalist Karen White (Vicky McClure) takes a teddy bear from the memorial at the beach. Does this indicate she's somehow involved or is she just being a ruthless journalist? I personally hope it's the latter.

One decision that a crime drama has to make early on is whether or not to keep the audience ahead of the police investigators. In The Killing, the audience got the information as and when the police discovered it. Broadchurch seems to be willing to give the audience some extra information, such as watching DS Miller's son Tom deleting text messages and computer files from Danny. I'm not saying this is a mistake, but with many claiming similarities with The Killing, it's important to note that Broadchurch doesn't stick to one of the aspects which made the Danish crime drama so refreshing.

Each episode of The Killing ended with a quick look at all of the characters at work. Broadchurch attempts to pull off the same trick, but doesn't quite succeed. This episode is focussed on a small number of the characters involved. Yet at the end, we get to see all of them doing some thinking, some looking and even some thinking whilst looking.

In The Killing, it worked because all of the characters had been carefully woven into each episode. Characters and suspects only appeared when they needed to and  there was very little attempt to create obvious red herrings. In Broadchurch, this final move felt like the writers teasing the audience. "One of these people did it, can you guess who?"

Personally, I don't want to guess who did it. I would much rather watch a compelling and convincing investigation rather than get the cheap thrill of guessing the murderer. Hopefully, Broadchurch will deliver on the signs of promise seen in this opening episode.

Broadchurch airs on Monday at 9pm on ITV for a further 7 weeks. Episode 1 is available for catch up online.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Oscar 2013 Predictions

My final predictions for tonight's ceremony

This year's awards race has been one of the most open and encompassing of recent years. You only have to look back at last year's race, when it was obvious from a very early stage that The Artist was going to win, to see how uneventful the annual awards race can be. This year, most of the major films have had their ups and downs. Things have settled in the past few weeks but the unpredictability of past few months means that many awards aren't pinned down.

So I shall be making my picks in each of the categories based on what I think will win, what I think might win, what I think should win and what I think should've been nominated. I'll only make picks for should win and should've been nominated where I've seen enough of the nominees.

Best Film

Will Win: Argo
Could Win: Lincoln
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Not even nominated: Skyfall

Best Director

Will Win: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
Could Win & Should Win: Ang Lee (Life Of Pi)
Not even nominated: Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)

Best Actor

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Could Win: N/A
Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Not even nominated: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour)

Best Actress

Will Win: Emanuelle Riva (Amour)
Could Win: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Should Win: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Not even nominated: Marion Cotillard (Rust And Bone)

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Could Win: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Not even nominated: Bruce Willis (Moonrise Kingdom)

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win, Should Win & Never Not Going To Win: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Could Win: Michael Haneke (Amour)
Should Win: Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Not Even Nominated: Rian Johnson (Looper)/Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win & Should Win: Chris Terrio (Argo)
Could Win: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Claudio Miranda (Life Of Pi)
Should Win: Roger Deakins (Skyfall)
Not Even Nominated: Mihai Malaimare Jr (The Master)

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Argo
Could Win: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Production Design

Will Win: Anna Karenina

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Anna Karenina

Best Original Score

Will Win: Mychael Danna (Life Of Pi)

Best Original Song

Will Win: Skyfall
Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: Les Miserables

Best Make Up & Hair

Will Win: Les Miserables

Best Visual Effects

Will Win & Should Win: Life Of Pi

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph
Should Win Because It's British: Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Amour
Should Win: Amour
No chance in hell of being nominated: The Raid

Best Documentary Feature

Will Win: Searching For Sugar Man

Best Documentary Short

Will Win (An educated guess): Mondays At Racine

Best Animated Short

Will Win: The Paperman

Best Live Short

Will Win (Another educated guess): Curfew