TV – House of Cards Season Three Review

March 26, 2015

Seeing as the third season of NetFlix’s House of Cards has been available for a few weeks now, I’ll admit I’m late to the dance with this review, but I’ve been busy and unable to devote the time to actually watch it.

Well…until earlier this week anyway.

And so having started it a mere three days ago, I’ve now finished it.

That’s a good sign, right?

Of course it is. Once again, House of Cards provided another entertaining 12 or so hours of drama and I’m glad I watched it.House_of_Cards,_season_3,_promo_image

But it wasn’t without its faults.

For me, this season felt flat compared to the previous two, and that’s only natural considering what this show actually is. The original concept is about a malevolent politician lying, cheating and ruthlessly trampling over anyone who gets in his way in his path to the top of the political totem pole.

And so when Underwood achieved that at the end of Season 2, it restricted both where Underwood as a character and the overall show itself could go.

As President, Underwood couldn’t be as evil as he had been in the previous two seasons. There’s certain things – such as murder or outright blackmail – that are off-limits to a Presidential character but in terms od realism and the American ideal of what their Commander In Chief should be. And so what’s left is him trying to manipulate situations to do the right thing rather than the selfish thing.

It made me think “Am I supposed to think badly of Underwood for trying to eradicate unemployment or solve the crisis in the Middle East?”. It was a weird one.

And just as weird was the fact that his opponents in the season were mostly bad eggs who you hoped would falter.

His wife, for example, came across as an arse, even though I think we were supposed to be rooting for her. Or maybe we weren’t and I’ve just picked that up wrong.

Really, at times it felt like an episode of the West Wing with less likeable characters.

Mainly though, I think the fault with this third season is that it didn’t build up to a satisfactory conclusion. It ended limply with the sort of cliffhanger you wouldn’t even expect to see before a commercial break. Certainly this is a season that is half way through a story arc relating to Underwood’s inevitable reelection, but I don’t see why that couldn’t have just stretched another couple of episodes to reach a climax that would leave you wanting more?

Now I’m coming across as negative, I know that, so I feel I should reiterate that I mostly enjoyed it. But those are still problems.

What will the final conclusion to House of Cards be then? Unlike the UK version, Underwood can’t go to war with a monarchy and neither can he hold on to power indefinitely like Francis Urquhart did. A US President has a time-limit. He can only be there for two terms and once he’s over the hump of that reelection, it’s plain sailing from there.

Do NetFlix have the balls to make the US President into a proper villain? I’m not so sure. And I don’t even know how feasible it is?

Mind you, they seemed happy enough to put the boots into Wal-Mart.

Anyway, we’ll have to wait until 2016 to see how it goes, but if this show isn’t going to end on a whimper, I suspect some more inspired writing is definitely – pardon the pun – on the cards.

 

 

Remember to buy my books folks; they are available on Amazon. Read about them here


Movies – Cockneys vs Zombies Review (or “The Best Zombie Movie Ever”)

March 7, 2015

Let’s face it; while Netflix and Amazon Prime market themselves as having a great selection of movies, all you really get is a couple of big name titles and then scores and scores of bargain bin efforts that would usually be found on channels like Movies For Men and – back in the day – Granada Plus.

So when you decide to put on a random film from Amazon Prime on a Saturday night, you don’t expect much.

But as it turned out, I was very pleasantly surprised by Cockneys vs Zombies!

Movies – Cockneys vs Zombies Review: What’s It About?

If that’s not a self-explanatory title, I don’t know what is? It’s a Zombie invasion of the East End, and a small group of youngsters – in the middle of a bank robbery to find funds to save an old folks home – get caught upcockneys-vs-zombies-dvd-001 in it.

Cockneys vs Zombies Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

While a rating of 5.9 on imdb might put you off, you also must consider that it gets 4 stars on Amazon, 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and 4.4/5 from TimeOut Magazine.

Cockneys vs Zombies Review: Who’s In It?

The younger ones are played by the likes of Michelle Ryan, Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway, while actors such as Alan Ford, Richard Briers, Honor Blackman, Tony Selby and Dudley Sutton play the older ones.

So it’s actually got a strong cast.

My Thoughts

Zombie movies are formulaic, so you know what you’re getting in terms of a plot. At the same time, any comedy Zombie movie will also look to follow the pattern set by Shaun of the Dead.

But I’ll go on record and say that I think Cockneys vs Zombies is better than Shaun of the Dead; hell, I’ll go on record and say that it’s the best Zombie movie I’ve ever seen!

Why? Because not only is it well written – better written than most movies from this genre – it’s just so damned funny.

The humour and comic timing of the actors is spot on, but it’s more than that; it’s the dialogue and the delivery of it.

To me at least, there’s just something hysterical about lines like…

“Oi, Zombies! Get the fuck out of my East End”
“You can ‘av some an’ all, twinkletoes” 
“Come on you Zombie Slags”
“…and if I have to, I’ll round up ever nutter from Bermondsey to Camden Town and we’ll sort this out ourselves!” 

…and so on.

Hell, Danny Dyer has made a career out of acting like that, so a bunch of experienced actors larging it up like Dyer on acid will always go down a treat.

And what better way to finish it off than with a specially written Zombie song by Chas n Dave?

Honestly, this film was just so much fun to watch, and running at just 90 minutes – thats 90 consistently funny minutes by the way – it doesn’t out-stay its welcome.

If you’re like me, you’ll see the name of the film and just assume it’s crap, but it’s really not.

There’s no doubt about it; you should give it a go if you’re on Amazon Prime.

You won’t regret it.

 

Remember to buy my books folks; they are available on Amazon. Read about them here


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.

 


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