TV: The Bridge Review

February 27, 2015

There are people out there who won’t give subtitled television a chance.

The idea is that you’d be ‘reading’ rather than ‘watching’ the TV.

And while I can understand that, I’d suggest that you’re missing out on some cracking shows if that is how you think.bridge

Take The Bridge for example.

A joint Danish and Swedish effort, this is a crime drama that has so far run for two seasons since 2011.

And it’s brilliant.

Season One deals with a cross-border serial killer whose style is to bring some of society’s inequalities to the surface (i.e. he kills homeless people to emphasise how society doesn’t care about them etc).

Season Two concerns eco-terrorism.

Both run for an engaging 10 episodes each and have plots that neither outstay their welcome nor leave anything out. Everything and everyone in the show is in it for a reason, and all story-arcs are fully explored.

What I would say is best out it though is the way the two lead characters – the socially unaware Aspergers-suffering Swedish detective, Saga Noren and the friendly and emotional Danish cop, Martin Rohde – are written and performed.

Both characters work so well together, and Noren especially (played superbly by Sofia Helin) is just a revelation. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like her in TV before, at least not in a lead role. It’s her bluntness and inability to understand how some of the things she says and does aren’t ‘socially acceptable’ (such as openly discussing her sex life or misreading sarcasm) that make her such a joy to watch.

And that’s the key here. You soon forget that you are reading subtitles and just become engrossed in each episode.

Without question, this is a show you’ll want to watch, and you can find it on NetFlix if it does interest you.

I can’t wait until Season 3!

 

 

Did You Know I Have A Book Out?

I’ve just released my second book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book Two – The Modern Era.

You can find out more about that here.


Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – Book Two: The Modern Era Now Available

February 26, 2015

Hi guys,SG_Cvr_04

Just an update to let you know that at long last, Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – Book Two: The Modern Era is now available on Amazon. Prices vary in different markets depending upon exchange rates, but it hovers around the $9.50/£6.50 region.

You can buy it to use on any smartphone, tablet or ebook reader.

For anyone who doesn’t want to buy from Amazon, perhaps because of geographical restrictions, you can buy a PDF to use on any device directly from me and pay through Paypal. Just get in touch either through the blog or through the Stuart Reviews Stuff Facebook site for more info on that.

The book deals with reviews from Rose through to Last Christmas and also contains the Stuart Reviews Doctor Who ‘Colossal 258′, ranking all the Doctor Who stories from worst to best.SG_Cvr_03

Spoiler Alert: As a random example, The Long Game is ranked #194.

If you’ve followed the blog over the years, I’m sure you’ll be interested to see how my own personal rankings differ from the flavour of the month style rankings by fandom in the Doctor Who Magazine.

At the same time as launching the second book, I’ve also gone back to Book One and sorted out some of the niggling formatting issues and any errors/spelling mistakes that people have pointed out to me. If you’ve already bought the book, you’ll be able to get an updated version through Amazon.

So I hope you buy it, and if you enjoy it, please leave a review on Amazon.

The links to the books are…

Book One
Book Two

and for the US Store…

Book One
Book Two

Cheers,

Stuart Milne

 

 


Movies – Selma Review (or “Watch As Oprah Winfrey Abuses Her Producership”)

February 14, 2015

To start this review of Selma with a wee blurb about my opinions on the genre of biopics would simply be retreading over old ground; ground that I only recently covered in my Theory of Everything review.

So I won’t.

Instead I will forgo my usual format to simply state that I found it an interesting and well acted, but not necessarily entertaining movie. Selma_poster

To learn about an issue is one thing, but it doesn’t necessarily make for must-see viewing, and I think that’s the problem here.

Or is it?

Perhaps Selma isn’t meant to entertain, but rather – 50 years on from the historically significant events of the march in that unassuming Alabama town – to inform those who never knew, or remind those who may have forgotten.

Because while American shouts from the rooftops about how it’s the greatest country on the planet, those boasts are juxtaposed against the sheer ignorance of its society back in those days (and possibly even now). It also should make people begin to understand why there is still tension to this day in areas of the country, as we saw recently in Ferguson.

Away from the story and message of the movie, the main thing that stuck out for me was the egotism of Oprah Winfrey, who – despite playing a character who was no more than an extra and played zero part in the unfolding of events – ensured she appeared on screen as much as possible. She felt like an extra who was trying to steal the spotlight with the help of the director.

That bugged me; it really did.

So Should You Go To See Selma?

As biopics go, I’d say there are more entertaining ones out there, not least the recent and aforementioned Theory of Everything.

But Selma carries with it a weighty message and an important history lesson that plenty of people in my generation and younger – outwith the US at least – should be made aware of.

Just don’t expect a rollercoaster of a plot along the way.


Movies – Ex Machina Review (or “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”)

January 27, 2015

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a film where the guy selling me the ticket has given it his personal seal of approval until today. Indeed, he didn’t just think I’d enjoy it, he guaranteed I’d enjoy it.

And on my way out, he was waiting at the door to find out if I did.

Because as it turns up, he was the director!!!!!

Well, no he wasn’t, but you’d think he had a personal stake in its success.

But was he right? Did I enjoy Ex Machina?

Movies – Ex Machina Review: What’s This One About?

An employee of one of the world’s foremost information technology moguls is selected to live with him for a week and take part in a Turing Test to see if a female AI can pass for a human, in the behavioural sense.exmachina

Ex Machina Review: Who’s In It?

The three main characters are played by Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac

Ex Machina Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Apart from the glowing praise of the Cineworld employee, this also gets 94% of Rotten Tomatoes, 8.1 on imdb (although from less than 2,000 votes) and general four star reviews in the press.

But you come to expect that for British movies distributed by Film 4.

Thoughts

My immediate thought upon leaving the cinema today was that Ex Machina is quite an intense, fast paced movie disguised as a serene and ponderous one. It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I imagine this is what writer and director Alex Garland was going for, so it’s done very well.

With its quiet, calm incidental music, sedate minimalist environment and generally relaxed characters, you don’t realise too much how quickly the plot advances in the relatively short (by today’s drawn-out standards) 108 minute running time.

The characters undergo quite drastic changes in the six days Caleb (Gleeson) spends with both Ava (the AI, played by Vikander) and Nathan (Isaac) and although there are one or two aspects of the plot that I could see coming from a mile away, it managed to impress and surprise me with its ending.

Without giving too much away, this could easily have gone down the much travelled road of ‘Man Falls In Love With AI’ that has been written about in science fiction for decades. Indeed, at first I thought this was just going to be a modern-day knock-off of the Twilight Zone episode, The Lonely.

But there was more to it than that, and that’s a testament to Garland and his cast.

Though not as exciting or intense as Whiplash – which I saw last week – this is definitely a movie that will grab your attention from the beginning and not let go until the end credits roll.

I just wonder if the themes explored in it are closer to reality – or should I say closer to actually happening in the near future – than we realise.

That would be something…


Movies – Whiplash Review

January 22, 2015

There’s a theory that states that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you can become an expert at it.

When people discuss sporting greats, in almost every case they are talking about someone who is absolutely dedicated to their craft and have devoted their entire lives to becoming the best.

And while that is commendable, it does tend to be the case that these people are so focused and single minded in their approach to being the best that they are…well…they are arseholes.

It’s like speaking to someone you know who is “Career Focused”. All they are is their job. As someone who is laid back about such things, I tend to feel depressed for these people.

Anyway, the point is that this side of the personalities of these people isn’t brought to the silver screen often enough.

But it is with Whiplash.

Whiplast Review: What’s It About?

A first year student at New York’s finest music college aspires to be the best drummer in the world. He earns a spot in the college’s top Jazz band, led by a teacher who uses fear, intimidation and bullying in an whiplashattempt to get the best out of his young wards. Tension ensues.

Whiplash Review: Who’s In It?

The two main characters are played by Miles Teller – as the young drummer, Andrew – and J. Jonah Jameson himself, J.K. Simmons as the terrifying band leader, Terence Fletcher

Whiplash Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

With a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 88% on Metacritic and 8.7 on imdb, this is a highly rated movie.

But of course that is no guarantee I’ll like it…

Thoughts

…although as it turns out I did.

Constructed around the tension between the two main characters – which is a testament not just to their acting, but to the spot on direction from Damien Chazelle – Whiplash is an absorbing movie that lasts just the right amount of time without overstaying its welcome.

What interested me about it most were the characters. This is not a movie where Teller plays the young hero who ultimately proves the dastardly Simmons wrong for a corny, happy ending, but rather a portrait of the sort of people you’d expect to find in the upper echelons of the jazz world.

Essentially, both of them are pricks. Andrew unwittingly falls out with almost everyone around him because of his focused, bullish need to be the very best, while Fletcher is an utter bastard whose actions are 100% wrong but motivated by an honest desire to get his students to reach their potential.

It’s incredibly well acted and makes for fascinating viewing.

And without spoiling it, this results in a tense build up to a finale which closes the film at a thrilling high point.

Like I said above, the direction was excellent. That the main character is a drummer allowed Chazelle to use the strength of the instrument to increase the tension in key scenes, and the use of camera angles in these scenes as Andrew literally shed blood, sweat and tears was captivating.

So I thought it was great. Indeed, as an overall package, Whiplash is already a strong contender for the best movie of 2015.

I don’t think it’ll be on the cinema much longer, so if you haven’t seen it, go now.

 


Movies – The Theory of Everything Review (or “No, Yours Eyes Are Not Deceiving You; That Really Is Frank LeBoeuf”)

January 8, 2015

Biopics tend to make for good movies, as long as the subject matter is interesting.

But even then they sometimes don’t work. I thought the Hitchcock biopic could have been a lot better if they’d stuck to the story of how Psycho was made, rather than going off on a tangent about his wife having an affair.

Mostly they do work though, and it was my hope that the movie I went to today – The Theory of Everything – would follow that pattern.

The Theory of Everything Review: What’s It About?

A biopic of the lives of Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane, starting from their first meeting through to the award of Hawking’s (I think) CBE.

The Theory of Everything Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Generally scoring in the high 70% range on all the regular haunts, this has been well received by the masses.

The Theory of Everything Review: Who’s In It?

The stars of the show are Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane. Other actors involved include Baines from the acclaimed Doctor Who story ‘Human Nature’, the young one off dinnerladies who is theoryofeverythingnow ancient, the guy who played Kenneth Williams in that great Carry On biopic on ITV in the early 2000s, and – most bizarrely of all – former France and Chelsea centre back Frank LeBoeuf.

The Theory of Everything Review: My Thoughts

Like I say above, the subject matter of a biopic has to be interesting to work, and Hawking’s life and how he came to be how he is today is certainly something I’ve always wondered about.

So this did work.

Indeed, I found it a highly entertaining and absorbing movie.

The main reason for that though wasn’t actually finding out about Hawking himself – because for reasons I’ll get to I think that could have been done better – but rather the story of how his life affected his wife.

To a large degree, this is a movie about the hardships of being a carer for someone who doesn’t seem to want to be cared for; or rather, for someone who doesn’t accept that he needs cared for. And that’s a story that so many people can surely empathise with throughout the world.

Though Hawking obviously has a hard time with his Motor Neurone Disease, the emotional impact hits hardest on Jane, who has stuck by him and put her life on hold for far longer than she would have expected, and gets very little in return.

And the thing is, most of this is done quietly and subtextually without the need to throw it in the faces of the viewers.

I liked that.

Hawking’s story was good too, but there were a couple of things that dragged that side of things down.

The first was that he was given a prognosis of being dead within two years of his diagnosis, and yet that obviously didn’t happen. But we were given no explanation for why that was or how he’s still able to use his hands, swallow and breath when the disease is supposed to destroy all voluntary movement.

It seemed to me to be a bit of an oversight to let that go unanswered. Maybe the truth is that nobody knows how he’s managed to live for so long and leave those two years trailing in his wake, but it’d be nice if it was addressed.

At least they explained why he can’t talk though.

On a similar note, the passing of time wasn’t portrayed that well. Though Hawking did age, Jane never seemed to, and without any clues that time had moved on, it went from being the 1960s to the 1980s in an instant. And I should say the only reason I knew it was the 80s was because someone in a hospital was watching Countdown on TV.

But apart from that I enjoyed it all.

In particular, the acting was fantastic. Redmayne did such an impressive job of impersonating Hawking and showing the slow decline in his health that in any other situation, he’d be in trouble for making fun of the disabled.

Jones however stole the show for me with her subtle nuanced acting style up against the loudness of Redmayne’s.

Both were great, but she pips it for me.

Should You Go To See The Theory Of Everything?

It’s a resounding yes from me. Small niggles aside, this is the best movie I’ve seen since 2013 and one that I’d recommend to anyone interested in biopics or – I suppose – Stephen Hawking.

Hopefully this is the quality of movie that can be maintained throughout 2015.


Movies: Birdman Review (or “A Style Over Substance Flick That Literally Sent Me To Sleep”)

January 5, 2015

When will I ever learn that a five-star review from a random critic is not reason enough to go to see a film? Just because someone else likes it, it doesn’t mean I will, so rather than just blindly think “Well it must be good”, I should do a little bit of research into what it’s about before going along.

The synopsis that “Michael Keaton plays a washed-up superhero actor in this breathtakingly original showbiz satire” doesn’t come anywhere close to explaining what Birdman is really about, and anyone going into the cinema armed only with that information should be forgiven for feeling short-changed.

And even if you were told that it’s about the run up to the opening night of a Broadway show financed and starring Keaton’s character as he strives to find critical acceptance after years of only being known as “Thebirdman guy from Birdman” then that still wouldn’t paint the whole picture.

Because at heart, what this is really about is arty direction.

With its annoyingly frenetic drum based incidental music and Long Take style, this is a film designed to stand out as being something that looks and sounds different to almost anything else we see out of Hollywood. And in fairness, the style does hit the right note to begin with. But the problem is that it’s a gimmick that fails to conceal the problems with a pretty dull script.

Direction aside, Birdman just doesn’t have enough plot or character depth to justify its two hour running time. So it got boring quite quickly and at one point – and I say this with no word of a lie – even briefly sent me to sleep despite it being 1pm.

The acting wasn’t bad, but like Birdman as a whole, it suffered from the performers trying too hard.

I suspect the praise it gets comes because it presents itself as something different, and while that’s fine, you’ve got to consider the whole package if you want to give it five stars.

A thumbs down from me to start 2015.


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