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.