Movies: The Foreigner Review (or “Jackie Chan vs The IRA: What’s Not To Love?”)

January 5, 2018

The one recurring point made in reviews of The Foreigner – which is labelled a NetFlix Original movie in the UK even though it seems to have had a cinematic release elsewhere – is that because it’s based on a book written in 1992, the subject matter feels slightly dated.

That’s a fair observation; the idea of IRA bombs in the UK and Pierce Brosnan playing Gerry Adams does feel a little bit out of sync with modern society.

But I think we can forgive that.

The Foreigner – or Jackie Chan vs The IRA – comes across like the type of movie that someone who loves ‘worthy’ cinematic presentations would hate.

It’s a pretty basic story, it’s entirely predictable, there’s sometimes a bit too much talking and it’s a little bit silly even though it’s supposed to be played straight, but it’s entertaining, and that’s what counts.

The story of an unimposing Chinese restaurateur – who just so happens to be ex US special forces – exacting revenge on the IRA in the quest to find the man responsible for planting a bomb in London that killed his daughter is just Death Wish done in a different mould, but that’s exactly the sort of thing I love. There’s plenty of daft fight scenes in odd settings, there’s over the top accents, ridiculous policing and other stuff that will make you chuckle even though you’re not supposed to.

And it works.

Put it this way, it lasts just under two hours and it flew by, whereas a fair amount of movies that go that length or 20 minutes over, feel like they have taken an eternity to conclude.

Chan, despite being a bit older now, can still handle himself while Brosnan is hammy but enjoyable as the Adams impersonator.

I thought it was great fun, so if you like this sort of thing, it’s well worth a watch on NetFlix.

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Movies: Molly’s Game Review (or “Poker Is Never Going To Be As Clever As The West Wing”)

January 4, 2018

Anyone familiar with Aaron Sorkin’s work as a writer will know that it’s usually razor-sharp but very wordy.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his first foray into directing on the big screen, Molly’s Game – a movie about an ex-skier who accidentally stumbles into the world of organising high stakes poker games – is no exception.

But due to the movie’s over-reliance on narration and directly explaining plot points and characterisation to the audience, it was too wordy.

And that was both a help and a hindrance to my enjoyment of it.

On the one hand, as I sat there in an overly hot cinema – really, it was like sitting inside an oven – I felt that Sorkin was trying too hard to make a story about poker as clever and snappy as The West Wing, and that was never going to happen.

On the other hand, afterwards it occurred to me that by telling the story like that, he saved it from being really boring. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the most exciting film in the world, but it wasn’t boring.

In fact, Molly’s Game turned out to be an entertaining watch, although like just about every movie to come out of Hollywood it overstayed its welcome by 20 minutes. Also, it had a weak ending, but that seemed inevitable based on how the story developed.

Should you see it? Well there are worse ways to spend an evening, but when you consider it’ll probably be on NetFlix or Amazon Prime by about May, a trip to the cinema is in no way essential.


Doctor Who – Twice Upon A Time Review (“I Shall Miss Him; Yes I Shall Miss Him”)

December 25, 2017

There’s been a little tradition on the Stuart Reviews Stuff blog since 2013, and it’s that I never write a Doctor Who Christmas Special review on Christmas Day.

And maybe it’s that I’ve wanted time to digest it or maybe it’s because it’s Christmas Day and I just haven’t been bothered, but I feel that it’s time to change that.

Because this Christmas Special is that little bit more special. It’s an episode that I have been waiting on with both a sense of feverish anticipation and a large dollop of dread.

Anticipation not only because it is a regeneration episode, but also it’s one that follows on from the great cliffhanger from The Doctor Falls and has the First Doctor in it.

Dread because it’s the end of the Peter Capaldi era. And no, it’s not “Oh no, the Doctor is going to turn into a woman” dread, because I find that sort of mindset to be troubling, if not utterly pathetic; instead, it’s

I wanted to be part of that group hug

dread because it is the end of the Peter Capaldi era. I’m not suggesting for a moment his episodes have been the better than any other Doctor, and the updated episode rankings for the upcoming print versions of Stuart Reviews Doctor Who will reflect that,  but I will 100% nail my colours to the mast and say that he is my favourite and the absolute best actor to play the Doctor. He’s been superb and I will miss his Doctor greatly.

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it like this before, but while Doctor Who is one long and continuous series that has run since 1963, the style and tone that each actor brings means that to an extent, whenever they depart, it feels like it’s the end of the show as it is, rather than it simply being a case of a new person taking the role and keeping the plates spinning.

 

And that’s generally ok, because for as long as I’ve been watching, whenever an actor has left the part I’ve felt it was time for a change and have looked forward to it. But not this time. I really didn’t want the Capaldi era to end because of his quality, and so now that it is over, I feel quite sad.

But you’re reading this to find out my thoughts on his last episode – Twice Upon A Time – and as such, I’ll get to it.

Doctor Who – Twice Upon A Time Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor(s) come to terms with regenerating.

Thoughts – First, The Story

In the run up to this episode, I’d read that because it was to be broadcast on Christmas Day, Steven Moffat wanted to keep it quite light and uplifting.

In fairness, he achieved that, but in all honesty up until the last 15 minutes it was so light that it was a bit of a nothing episode.

It seemed a little bit like Moffat felt having the First Doctor there was enough to carry things along, but if you were to take every other element of the episode to that point except for the First Doctor and all the little

Three cheers for sexism!!

nods to fans of the show who were familiar with him, then you’d be left with something that failed to deliver.

Put simply, the story was that glass people found a problem with time based around a WW1 soldier who should have died but didn’t, the Doctor goes to speak to a Dalek to find out what was going on and then when he realised it wasn’t a diabolical scheme, he went and sorted it so that the soldier didn’t die.

I mean…it’s not exactly The Girl in the Fireplace or Blink levels of sophistication is it?

There were lots of funny lines of dialogue which amused me, but as a story, it really wasn’t up to much.

The acting, however, was.

Of the four main actors, everyone – including the deserved Stuart Reviews Stuff whipping boy Mark Gatiss – was excellent. No, despite what Steven Moffat has said, David Bradley does not play the character of the First Doctor exactly as William Hartnell did, but he tried his best. If anything, the problem with him was that he was written as an old relic from a bygone age, and as a result of that, he couldn’t have played the part the same, but he was still very good. And Pearl Mackie too played the part to her high standard.

As for Capaldi, well I dare say every review I’ve written while he’s been in the part has been a love letter to his talents, and it won’t surprise you that I thought that again.

And that leads us to…

The Regeneration

So while the first 45 minute were pretty light, the last 15 minutes delivered in spades.

When it came to it, I think everyone knew that Peter Capaldi would deliver a strong farewell monologue and that it would supported by the sort of powerful incidental music to bring out the emotion of the occasion.

The Captain was revealed to be The Brigadier’s dad, and throughout the world you could hear the sound of not a single person being surprised

That’s exactly what happened.

Outside the ship (yes, I did love the reference to how the First Doctor called it a ship), there was the sadness of his final conversations with Clara, Bill and Nardole heightened by the music from the death scene of The Doctor Falls and then inside when he decided he would regenerate, it was a more stirring music.

And you know what? It didn’t actually matter what he said – because I’ve watched that bit twice now and the words themselves didn’t have that much to them – but it’s how he said it. It was sad and yet uplifting.

Then once the regeneration actually happened, we were – much like with the last two changes of lead – left with a new Doctor in a chaotic and dangerous ‘To Be Continued’ situation.

And though I’m sad that it won’t be Peter Capaldi in the role when the story does continue, it’s still a story I can’t wait to see.

The Ends of Other Eras

This episode of course didn’t just close the book on Peter Capaldi’s time with Doctor Who; it’s also the end for Murray Gold and Steven Moffat.

I’m sad to see Gold go, even though it probably is time to give someone else a shot. What’s noticeable about Twice Upon A Time is how much music is reused.

I could be wrong, but I’m sure I’d heard every bit of it before, but when you consider that the aforementioned track from The Doctor Falls was new only six months ago and is absolutely one of the top three pieces of incidental music in Doctor Who history, he obviously has a lot left in the tank.

Moffat though I am glad to see gone.

Yes, he occasionally can still write well, and this year brought us one of the better companions in Bill Potts, but I totally get why so many people are sick of him. The show needs a freshness in terms of how it’s

Meanwhile, this is the exact moment that lots of angry repressed middle aged men kicked their TVs in and stormed off, threatening never to watch the show again.

written; a new perspective and bit of rejuvenation.

There is – as much as it appeals to me – too much time given to referencing past stories and events.

The show essentially needs the sort of shake up that it was given in Series 7 back in 1970 if it wants to stay relevant and popular in the eyes of the general public rather than just Doctor Who fans, and I hope Chris Chibnall can provide that.

So thanks for a lot of good times Steven Moffat, but as the old saying goes, off you pop.

Random Observations

  • Endemic of the sort of problem I have with Moffat’s writing is the character of The Captain. The moment I saw that first trailer, I – and I’m sure most of you – said “I bet he’ll turn out to be Lethbridge Stewart’s dad”. Gosh, I was shocked to find out that’s exactly who he was.
  • The running joke about the brandy provided plenty of laughs.
  • As did the sexist lines by the First Doctor about how women should be cleaning and how he’d give Bill a jolly good smacked bottom.
  • The Doctor really must have scarpered away from Ben and Polly pretty bloody fast, eh?
  • Maybe that should be a random observation in my Tenth Planet review?
  • I personally would have liked The First Doctor to be portrayed slightly more heroically than he was.
  • And as you might have guessed, I let out a sigh of despair when I realised that the Daleks – or a Dalek – were in it. Let’s hope they get left behind for the next few seasons at least.
  • Had this been just another Christmas story, the bit about the 1914 truce would have been fitting. As it was, it felt like the potential emotional impact was smothered by the regeneration.
  • My family and girlfriend all took the piss out of me before it started, saying I’d probably cry. In fact, after our Christmas dinner and before she left the room to go watch a different TV show elsewhere (the philistine), my mum rather cuttingly said “Don’t cry too much now”. Well sod the lot of them, I’m happy to admit I shed a tear or two in the last few minutes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a testament to the quality of the presentation.

Doctor Who – Twice Upon A Time Review: Final Thoughts

Well, there it is, the end of the Peter Capaldi era.

I think I’ve made it clear already, but I’ll say it again…

He might not have always had the best material to work with, but he always made the best of the material he had to work with, and that is why he is so good.

And it’s why – to be like Steven Moffat and provide a reference that only the Doctor Who superfans among you will get – I shall miss him. Yes, I shall miss him.

But I won’t miss Moffat.

 


Movies: Star Wars – The Last Jedi Review

December 17, 2017

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I hold the rather unpopular viewpoint that Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars film.

I know, I know, some of you have probably already closed this review down in disgust, but the reason I like it the most is that it’s the one where most happens. Everything we’ve seen set up in Episodes One and Two has to be resolved to tie in with the start of A New Hope, and so what we get is death, character development, excitement and a plot that has a certain amount of pace to it. Yes, there’s some poor acting and yes, the decision to kill of Padmé with a broken heart was daft, but those negatives are far outweighed by the positives.

So if you take those reasons as an indicator of what I like in a movie – Star Wars or otherwise – then it won’t come as a huge shock that I was quite disappointed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

It wasn’t that it was a bad movie, nor that it dragged – indeed for a not inconsiderable 152 minutes it went by quite quickly – but rather that I came away from it feeling like the story hadn’t moved on.

And it’s funny, because if you read other people’s opinions on it, some appear to be saying the exact opposite.

To me though it felt like a movie that safely knew its place in a series that will go on and on, and so didn’t want to make any drastic changes. It finished like it started, with the rebels on the run having managed to escape from their pursuers yet again. It’s almost like an episode of something like Blake’s Seven. By the end of an episode of that, the Federation are still chasing them, but Blake’s group have managed to survive another week. In The Last Jedi, the gang go off to find a lockpick, fail and it doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, some people get killed but no-one that would have a significant impact on the story.

And yes, you can say to me “But Stuart, they killed off Luke Skywalker and Snoke; surely those are significant developments?”, but I would disagree. There’s no way Luke Skywalker won’t appear in Episode IX, so whether he’s a ghost or alive it makes no difference. Snoke meanwhile was an empty character who – by design or not – was abandoned without the viewer understanding his back story, motivation or purpose, so he’s hardly a loss.

Beyond the lack of development, there were other aspects that I felt let it down.

The comedy for example…

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In Thor Ragnarok it worked but in The Last Jedi it really didn’t.

If you’re going to do comedy then either play the whole thing in a light-hearted way, or employ an actor who is able to bring out the comedy in a serious situation.

Star Wars films are pretty serious in their design, but Harrison Ford was able to bring out some humour with a combination of his own ability as an actor and the way Han Solo was written. I don’t think there’s anyone in The Last Jedi who has that charm that Ford brought and I’m afraid the writing just wasn’t good enough to make the comedy seem anything other than forced. Put it this way; nobody laughed in the screening I was at.

Meanwhile, the acting wasn’t great. Yes fine, heap all the criticism in the world on Hayden Christiensen; he wasn’t the best actor and you presumably don’t have any kind of emotional attachment to him, but I’m sorry; whether you are fond of her or not, and whether you feel duty bound not to say anything harsh against her because she sadly passed away in real life, Carrie Fisher was awful. I’m not going to mock her for fear of fan boy retribution, but it is safe to say that had this been the first Star Wars movie she’d appeared in, she’d have been panned by all.

Mark Hammil wasn’t really much better either, if we’re honest.

And not to heap more criticism on the movie than I already have but there was a little bit too much in the way of convenience. What are the chances of Finn and Rose being locked in a cell with a guy with the very skills they were looking for? Or for only them and Captain Phasma to survive when the rebel ship ploughed into the destroyer? Or even for the escape vessel with all the main characters on it to be one of the tiny few not to have been shot down on the way to the rebel planet?

It’s stuff like that – as well as Kylo Ren’s weird about-turn after killing Snoke or the rather shameless addition of Porgs for the sole purpose of selling merchandise – that are worth questioning when you are reviewing a movie like this.

And lastly, I also felt like The Last Jedi failed to explore the usually vast and rich universe it’s set in – beyond the trip to the casino planet – and stayed with the rather dull space environment.

But it’s not like I hated it, it’s just that it disappointed me.

Hopefully the next movie will be slightly better, and that Nein Nunb will get some lines of dialogue.

And you can bet Luke Skywalker will be in it.

And much like this movie, so will Yoda (and by the way, his inclusion was pretty cool, as was the way he was brought back as a puppet rather than as CGI).

But the late Admiral Akbar won’t be, and that’s the most upsetting travesty of them all.


TV – The Crown Season 2 Review

December 13, 2017

When it comes to watching Netflix Original series, my most regular complaint is that the shows start well but tail off badly. Whether it’s drama shows like Luke Cage or Ozark, or true crime shows like Making of a Murderer, I’ll get bored and barely muster up the will to finish them.

I think part of the reason for that is that there’s not enough story to last the course, so everything slows down to a crawl and they inevitably rely on time-wasting tropes such as the flashback episode that nobody wanted to see in the first place.

But The Crown is a bit different; well…maybe except for the flashback episode, because in the new season there was one that went back to Prince Philip’s childhood, and it was by far and away the weakest of the entire run.

Apart from that though, The Crowd is a consistently entertaining show that manages to stay fresh and interesting throughout. I think the reason for that is that it tackles a variety of major issues that happened in the UK and abroad late 1950s/early 1960s rather than just sticking with the same thing, like so many other NetFlix shows do. So while the first three episodes are about the fallout from the Suez Crisis and Prince Philip’s trip around the world on the Royal Yacht Britannia, it then moves on to other topics like Princess Margaret’s relationship with the future Lord Snowdon, the view of the monarchy being out of touch following a disastrous speech by the Queen at a factory, the Ghanian Crisis, JFK, the Profumo Affair and the revalations about the former King and his relationship with the Nazis (and by the way, what an absolute bastard he was, eh?).

That kept me engrossed and educated, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And it’s well enough acted too, with Claire Foy being particularly good as the Queen and deserving of all the credit she gets. I’m not sure if Matt Smith is that good or if I just see him as Matt Smith and therefore can’t separate him from his performance as the Doctor.

If I was to have any complaint – as churlish as it is – is that the actors playing the parts are perhaps a little too good-looking for the characters they play, but hey ho.

Anyway, this is definitely a show you should watch. I’m yet to come across anyone who has anything but praise for it.

If you’ve not seen it, that’s your next couple of weeks sorted.


Movies: Bad Moms Review (or “Yay, Men Are Shit etc etc”)

November 9, 2017

I’m not really sure why I decided to watch Bad Moms, but I did…

Just in case it was good enough to justify going to see the sequel that’s currently out on the cinema…

But it wasn’t.

I’m going to try not to be too scathing because it’s not that bad a movie; it’s just that it’s the same Hollywood comedy you’ve seen 1000 times already over the past 15 years. It’s crude, it has the most basic and predictable plot imaginable and it’s another one of these rather preachy affairs that bluntly screams at you that women/mothers aren’t perfect.

Yes, we know they aren’t; it’s hardly a revelation.

Presumably the sequel will be exactly what this movie was, but instead of the three women rebelling against the PTA and their daily expectations as mothers, they’ll rebel against what’s demanded of them at Christmas time and by their own mothers, who of course they’ll come to realise in the end are just like them. And then they’ll probably all get drunk together. Yay, men are shit, etc etc.

And yet it was a decent enough movie to watch in the afternoon while playing games on my phone.

Or to put it another way, it’s not something you’d want to go to the cinema to see, but it’d pass the time on a plane.

Yeah…that’ll do.

 


Gaming: Nintendo Switch Initial Impressions

November 2, 2017

A quick update for those who asked me to review my recently purchased Nintendo Switch.

So far it’s terrific. Only three games – Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart and Mario + Rabbids (and I haven’t even tried playing that one yet) – but the machine works like a charm, is very user-friendly and has a comfortable controller.

Obviously Nintendo make some of the best games on the market and for that reason alone it’s worth buying.

There look to be some downsides, like a poor online mode and cumbersome third party support, but really – much like the Wii and the Wii U before it – it looks like it’ll be a console that a lot of gamers will have as well as a PS4/Xbox One/PC rather than instead of.

But for portability, functionality and (first party) game quality, you’ll find value in a Switch.

Oh, and by the way, Mario Odyssey so far seems to deserve the hype. It’s sensationally good.