Doctor Who – Smile Review (or “Not Exactly Original, But Then What Is These Days?”)

April 24, 2017

The problem with writing a review long after most people have already had their say is finding a fresh take on it. You don’t want to look like you’re just repeating what someone else has said.

As an example, many of the reviews for Smile have drawn comparisons with Black Mirror. I had thought that myself, so I was disappointed – if a little unsurprised – that it appears to be the consensus.

Perhaps I can expand on that though and offer some kind of unique perspective…

Doctor Who – Smile Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor and Bill (I wrote Pearl the first time around because I still can’t identify the character as Bill yet) land on a recently set up Earth colony to find that the robot builders have killed everyone because of their lack of understanding of negative emotions.

Thoughts – The Black Mirror Comparison

So yes, this is like the sort of thing you’d see in an episode of Black Mirror, but then you could review an episode of Black Mirror and say it’s a bit like something you’d see on the Twilight Zone or Out of the

Mon Then

Unknown. The nature of the beast is that for as long as television has been a thing, there have been science fiction shows on air, and so there’s likely to be that element of repetition.

At its heart this is a tale of colonists under threat/robots vs humans and that’s hardly new.

Even if you plan on narrowing the comparisons down to Doctor Who, there have been many stories about Earth colonies and expeditions, and even the apparent uniqueness of this episode – the emoji based robots – is something that’s kinda been done in The Beast Below.

Ultimately when it comes to plot, almost everything has been done before to some extent and this episode is no exception.

The big question is whether or not it’s any good.

The Quality of the Episode

The answer to that question is that it’s good in some ways, but not so good in others.

I liked the visuals. Smile looks different and so is a feast on the eyes. Not only is the setting interesting but the emoji-bots have a certain charm to them that will make this story memorable for years to come. They are a bit like the Quarks in that regard.

I also enjoyed the interaction between the Doctor and Bill. Their relationship was expanded upon and Bill’s character came across once again as likeable and an improvement over most of what we saw of Clara.

Admit it; at this point you thought to yourself “That’s her off the Thin Blue Line”, didn’t you?

What I didn’t like was the resolution to the plot.

It’s all well and good having the general idea for a story, but you’ve got to see that through to the end.

After a good buildup in the first half of the episode, things just fell flat towards the end.

The explanation of what caused the advance settler team to be killed was repeated and then the whole thing was solved with the most thoughtless of plot devices – the reset switch.

That in particular let Smile down because although I largely enjoyed it up to that point, I think my lasting memory of it will be the rather dodgy ending.

Random Observations

  • Top marks for ending the episode by segueing into next week’s. For the Doctor Who fans out there who seem to be eternally concerned with the show’s ratings, this will probably work to get people tuning in again on Saturday.
  • I notice that Nardol didn’t play much of a part in Smile and will likely barely appear next week either. That’s a pity.
  • The line relating to Scottish Independence will be grabbed by both sides of the debate. Some will say that it’s taking a shot at the SNP, while others will contend that it supports their stance. Either way it’ll be tiresome.
  • Admit it, one of the very first things you did when watching Smile was turn to the person beside you – or failing that think to yourself – “That’s her off The Thin Blue Line isn’t it?”
  • So, the actors inside the emoji-bot costumes? Children or dwarves?
  • Surely rather than reset everything, the Doctor could have just urged the colonists not to bother accepting the emoji buttons from the bots? Then they wouldn’t know if they were unhappy.
  • The explanation of why the emoji-bots couldn’t handle negative emotion was pretty ropey. Surely they must have encountered some unhappiness or anger before the first settler died?
  • The trailer for next week got me thinking about how it seems that there have been a lot of obvious alien invasions/encounters in pre-20th century London, and that in turn got me thinking about another issue. When the Mondas Cybermen turn up, will Bill know about them considering the events of The Tenth Planet happened in 1986? If not, why not?
  • And am I looking too deeply into this?

Doctor Who – Smile Review: Final Thoughts

Smile is largely unoriginal, but then what isn’t these days?

It should be commended for at least presenting something that looks fresh and for continuing to expand the Doctor/Bill relationship.

However there’s no excusing the cop-out reset switch ending.

Final result then: Hit and Miss.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon


Doctor Who – The Pilot Review (or ‘The New Companion, The Token Monster and The Box Ticking Dalek’)

April 16, 2017

After almost a year and a half without regular episodes, Doctor Who is back.

And it’s a season I have mixed feelings over.

On the one hand, while I appreciate that he’s still capable of writing the occasional top episode, I’m glad that Steven Moffat is leaving, but on the other, I’m gutted that Peter Capaldi – for me the best actor to take the part – is also departing.

Some might say he hasn’t been given the best material to work with, which is arguably true, but I think a lot of very good episodes have been glossed over for people to make a generalised view that the show is not as good as it once was.

Less welcoming to new and casual viewers? Fair enough, but then that is apparently what the first episode of this new season aims to correct.

It’s a bit of a ‘soft reboot’.

It’s ‘The Pilot’

Doctor Who – The Pilot Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor is working as a tenured lecturer at a university and has taken a shine to a girl who works in the canteen and attends his lectures.

Meanwhile the most powerful puddle in the universe lurks nearby.

Thoughts – Let’s Talk About Bill

The main thing to focus on in this story is the debut of the new companion, Bill Potts.

Unlike some, I won’t focus on her sexual orientation as it doesn’t matter either way to me. Much like the heavily debated gay kiss in Beauty and the Beast, I totally appreciate the significance of it, but I’m personally

Anyone concerned about a puddle being on the ground even though it hasn’t rained for a week has obviously never been to the Gallagher Retail Car Park in Dundee….

not bothered. If it makes a positive difference to some viewers, I’m all for it. If it makes a negative difference to others, then those people need to get a grip.

But regardless, her sexual orientation shouldn’t define her character, and I don’t think it does.

Personally, I thought the immediate establishment of her tutor/student relationship was well done as it set the tone quickly and efficiently.

On first impressions, Bill seems like a fun and quirky companion who is probably easier to relate to that the increasingly smug Clara. That’s a tick in the box for making things more welcoming.

So on the companion front, we’re off to an encouraging start.

The Story Itself

But what of the story beyond Bill?

It was fine…for what little else there was.

The ‘monster’ – because lets not forget that Doctor Who apparently has to have one of those – was good in theory, but was spectacularly underplayed.

Here’s an organism that can travel millions of years in an instant and is impervious to anything you could throw at it, and yet it offered no real threat and barely had any tension surrounding it.

That seemed like a missed opportunity.

But then I don’t think it was supposed to be anything more than a token alien to operate as a backdrop against the introduction of Bill.

Long term readers of the blog probably looked at this image and thought the tagline should be ‘Mon Then’, but it’s a picture of a Dalek and the Daleks can just fuck off.

Beyond that it served to set up the rest of the season rather than focus on being in the moment, and I guess that’s just the nature of the beast.

I enjoyed it, but it’s one of these stories where people will look back and say “Yeah, it was good for what it was”.

 

Random Observations

  • I thought about writing a dedicated section of this review to my dismay at the Daleks showing up for the sake of the BBC’s ongoing contract with the Terry Nation estate, but really, it doesn’t merit it. They obviously have to appear at some stage, and I’m glad that we’ve got over that hump already.
  • But if they appear again I won’t be happy.
  • There were other elements of ‘fanwankery’ such as the Movellans appearing with them, and the pictures of River Song and Susan, but I think we can forgive that.
  • I would be interested though if Susan manages to turn up at some stage. My only potential concern there is that Carole Ann Ford’s last proper acting role appears to be The Five Doctors. There’s just a chance she might be out of practice…
  • The overall highlight of the episode has to be Bill’s dialogue upon entering the TARDIS. That scene in general was well done, and it’s fun that they keep managing to find new and interesting reactions for people entering the TARDIS for the first time.
  • We’re not at ‘Strike Me Pink’ levels from Black Orchid yet then.
  • I also got a laugh from the line where she asks the Doctor if he knows much about science fiction.
  • While the water monster appears to be a slight ‘Best Of’ homage to Midnight and The Waters of Mars – and that’s great – I do feel that its realisation on-screen was a bit of a let down. I know the show doesn’t have the world’s largest effects budget, but that for me goes down as ‘Ropey CGI’.
  • I haven’t yet mentioned Peter Capaldi or Matt Lucas, but I don’t really feel I need to. Both were effortlessly top-notch, as usual.
  • I’m encouraged by the mystery of what’s in the vault, and though I don’t think we have to know what’s in there by next week, it would be nice of this didn’t remain a mystery until the cliffhanger of the penultimate episode.
  • Another element that was underplayed but that I thought was a nice touch was the pictures of Bill’s mum that the Doctor had taken for her.
  • The scene in the bathroom was mildly creepy. Perhaps it was Steven Moffat’s way of making children scared of having a shower.
  • Anyone overly concerned about a puddle on the ground even though it hasn’t rained for a week obviously hasn’t been to the Gallagher Retail Car Park in Dundee…
  • The one dialogue letdown was the “I’d leave it ten minutes if I were you” toilet humour. The show is better than that.
  • Perhaps its worth noting – as this might have been a problem with the episode rather than my lack of attention – that I actually couldn’t remember the name of the new companion at the start of this review. I’m not sure if it’s not mentioned enough or that the character’s name is far less memorable than the name of the actress playing her, but either way, I had to look it up.

Doctor Who – The Pilot Review: Final Thoughts

As stated above, this will come to be regarded as an inoffensive, perhaps even by-the-numbers companion introduction story.

It was fun and it did its job, but it was essentially a story about a new companion with a token monster and an even tokener (and I know that’s not a word) appearance by the Daleks thrown in for the sake of it.

Hopefully anyone who thought the show was too geeky and unwelcoming can come in and join the party now.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon.

 

 

 

 


Movies – Beauty and the Beast Review (or “A Visual Feast, Not An Audible One”)

April 7, 2017

Seeing as pretty much everyone who goes to see Beauty and the Beast has probably already seen the cartoon version, the onus of any review should not be on whether or not it’s a good story, but rather if it manages to successfully bring the cartoon to life.

It does and it doesn’t.

From the very beginning you can see that unlike the Jungle Book – which played it straighter with almost none of the songs from the original present – this was planned as a shot for shot remake. Yes, it adds a bit here, removes a bit there and expands upon/offers a new interpretation on some elements from the cartoon, but it’s essentially the same thing.

And it looks spectacular, it really does. This movie is without question a feast for the eyes.

Unfortunately it’s not a feast for the ears.

Because here’s the problem; it’s a musical and many of the actors hired to play the parts can’t sing to the standard you’d expect.

Take Emma Watson for example; there’s no question that she looks the part for the role and although she’s not the best actress by any stretch of the imagination, she manages to get by.

But she really can’t sing.

She talks through most of her lyrics and every word seems to be auto-tuned to the max. It’s quite difficult to listen to, especially considering how good the songs are from the original.

You can almost excuse it though because the role of Belle really had to be filled with an actress of some repute.

What I don’t get is why they had to cast big-name actors who can’t sing for characters who are CGI teapots and candles for 99% of the movie. One of the big draws from the original was Angela Lansbury’s Beauty & The Beast song which gets absolutely murdered by Emma Thompson. The same applies to Ewan McGregor’s destruction of Be Our Guest.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt many people go to see a movie based upon which actors are doing voice parts so why not just hire people who are maybe not so well-known but could have done a better job?

It’s not all bad though on that front. I thought the casting of The Beast (Dan Stevens) and especially Gaston (Luke Evans) was bang on. The latter managed to both look like the cartoon version and was actually able to sing.

And one of those songs brought up a significant aspect of the movie; Disney’s first openly LBGTQ character.

This has caused a lot of silly and unnecessary controversy from backward thinking countries/regions who are appalled at the thought of two men dancing but are strangely ok with a young girl falling in love with a giant horned animal.

I get the significance, but – and I say this as a straight, white male and thus not the demographic that this will be as important to – I can’t help but feel that making that first character the bumbling, stupid sidekick of the villain was a poor choice. And the writing and performance – especially in the Gaston song – seemed rather worryingly to be based on the relationship between Craig and Anthony in Big Brother 6. Anyone remember that?

Anyway, on the whole it was enjoyable but if you were to ask me if I’d rather watch this one or the original, I’d definitely pick the cartoon. The songs are just too central to what makes the movie what it is, and that’s where the live version is let down.

So it brings it visually to life, just not audibly.

 


Movies – Kong: Skull Island Review (or “Unsurprisingly Clichéd”

March 22, 2017

It’s fair to say that Kong: Skull Island is an unremarkable movie.

Though the premise is decent and there’s nothing particularly bad about its execution, I left with the feeling that almost no effort went into the development of the plot.

Or to put it another way, while someone probably got paid handsomely for writing the movie, just about anyone off the street could have done a similar job in their sleep.

As I watched it, I just felt like I’d seen it all before and could have ticked off everything that happened on a pre-made cliché sheet.

For example, we have..

  • The scientific expedition where one person knows more than they’ve let on.
  • That person then gets killed.
  • The handsome Indiana Jones style male lead.
  • The plucky girl who tags along for the ride and has no real purpose to the plot beyond a hint at some kind of romantic tie-up with the male lead.
  • And she’s got big tits, obviously.
  • The military guy who starts to go a bit mad and turns into the villain of the piece
  • Samuel L. Jackson (almost) gets to say “Motherfucker”
  • The bloke who decides that for no good reason he’s going to sacrifice his life because he apparently can’t be bothered living anymore.
  • Someone who says “Oh and (insert name here)…thanks” which nobody EVER SAYS in real life.
  • The bit where after initially fearing the monster they soften to him for no reason other than for it to save the day in the end.
  • The monster represented as not anatomically correct (i.e. he’s got no junk).
  • All the good guys surviving.

There are more, but you get the idea.

I’d just like to see a bit of innovation, but I’m not sure that exists anymore.

Still, despite these problems, I suppose I should take the view that it was exactly what I expected it to be and so can’t be too disappointed.

I mean…that’s one way to think about it…

 


Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Lochlands Mill (Dundee Rd, Forfar)

March 5, 2017

It’s been pretty quiet on the restaurant review front lately, for which I apologise.

In recent weeks I’ve spent more time going back to places I’d already eaten, so there hasn’t been much to talk about.

But today I ventured further afield to try somewhere new; Lochlands Mill, just outside of Forfar.

The Venue

Well it took us a while to get their thanks to my car’s shitty sat nav, which suggested I drive across a barrier on the A90, but once we finally – and quite by accident – ended up in the right place, we were met with a

The burger was superb

The burger was superb

nice restaurant.

Rather oddly combining as a pet rehabilitation centre and jewellery store, Lochlands Mill looks quite new and has a fresh design.

It’s not the biggest place in the world, and we were lucky to get the last available table, but once we were in it was clean and comfortable.

The waiting staff were pleasant and were happy to offer recommendations on what to get from the menu.

The Food

While Mhairi went for the Soup & Sandwich combo of Lentil & Vegetable soup and an Egg Mayo & Chive open sandwich, I took the waitress’s recommendation of their home-made burger with bbq sauce and onion rings served on a brioche bun ahead of the Roast of the Day or the Steak & Ale Pie.

She recommended well.

I like to think I’m a good judge of a burger, and sometimes I feel disappointed. There are some places that apparently specialise in their burgers – like Rascals in St. Andrews for example – that don’t actually make good burgers.  What they do is try to hide the bland and substandard flavour of their ready-made meat patty with all the wild and wacky toppings available, as if they are more important.

But this burger was different. I could tell that it was freshly made just before it was served, with its rough, uneven shape, and while I’ll be honest and say I’d have preferred it a little less well done, it had a robust

Apparently the open sandwich had the perfect blend of egg to mayonaisse

Apparently the open sandwich had the perfect blend of egg to mayonaisse

flavour. The onion ring was also well cooked and not greasy, which complimented it nicely along with the Applewood smoked cheddar.

Mhairi also enjoyed her food, with the soup being declared light to eat but filling, while the sandwich was considered to have the perfect ratio of egg to mayonnaise.

High praise indeed.

The Drink

Plenty of variety of soft drink, but it won’t come as a surprise to know I went for a lemonade. Shocking, eh? Mhairi veered off the well beaten path though and elected for an Irn Bru.

The Vegetarian’s Viewpoint

It should be noted that both the Beer Kitchen and the Meat House in Dundee were considered for today’s lunch but had very little for vegetarians. While I’m sure that’s exactly the most shocking revelation from a place called The Meat House, it actually had far more choice than the Beer Kitchen.

Anyway, there were both light and main options for the carrot munchers at Lochlands Mill, so there were no complaints in that department.

The Price

All in, it came to £21.10, which isn’t bad at all. In fact, Mhairi’s meal only amounted to £6.50 which really is pretty good.

Final Thoughts

A top quality burger, a clean and comfortable venue and plenty choice for vegetarians means this is one place we’ll definitely be going back to soon.

I’d probably book a table in advance though as I think we were pretty lucky to get a table.

 

 


Movies – Patriot’s Day Review

March 5, 2017

It seems as though movies based on true stories are in vogue at the moment as Patriot’s Day is the third one I’ve seen in as many weeks.

This one wasn’t a learning experience like The Founder, nor was it particularly schmaltzy like Hidden Figures; it merely presented a recent news story for the viewer to experience.patriots_day_ver3

I’m sure most people – unless they simply don’t follow the news – knew about the Boston Marathon bombings of a few years ago, and so the narrative of the film will hardly have come as a surprise, but that didn’t take away from its drama and impact.

Personally, I watch stuff like this and think “Jeez, that actually happened” and get pretty caught up in it all. I see the impact of the bombings – the deaths of a small number of people and the permanent injuries suffered by others – and take it more seriously than any fictional drama.

Above that though, it was enjoyable. The cast was strong, it never lulled and it had a few moments that I would describe as ‘Punchtheairtastic’; the scene where the Chinese guy escapes and tells the police to “Get those motherfuckers” immediately springs to mine.

The one thing that stood out for me though was that Mark Wahlberg’s character was so obviously fictional. One single cop managed to be patrolling the finish line when the bomb went off and was also at the scene of both terrorist’s arrest? It was too coincidental to be true. But I think it was required. Without his character to provide a link between every major event, Patriot’s Day would probably have seemed disjointed. As much as it’s based on a true story, if it was entirely accurate to the truth then it might not have made for such a good movie.

Why they spent so much time on this fake character’s knee injury though, I could not tell you…


Movies – The Founder Review (or ‘A Film Based On A True Story That’s Actually Interesting’)

February 25, 2017

If you read my review of Hidden Figures earlier this week, you’ll note that I said that I enjoyed it.

Now that’s true, but while writing the review I had trouble coming up with an angle to approach it from, and now I realise why that was.

It wasn’t exactly ground-breaking.

Before the movie started, I knew exactly how it would pan out; these three women would face some adversity but ultimately would help play a small part in the launch of a rocket. And that’s what happened.founder

Now let’s face it, that isn’t a particularly interesting story, and I think it gets away with it because it is based on true events.

But should it?

I’ve now seen three films this year based on true events. Hidden Figures was good but hardly dramatic, while Jackie told a story we all know and in an attempt to be different presented it from a perspective that turned out to be neither interesting nor satisfying.

The Founder meanwhile is different.

It tells a story that I had never actually heard before and more-over it’s a story that I found genuinely informative.

It’s about how the McDonalds empire was created, and while on paper that doesn’t sound all that engrossing, it’s only when you sit down to watch it that you realise that you’ve never really considered a world before fast food was created. It’s something that we take for-granted now and yet there was a time before it was part of people’s lives.

I found it fascinating, and the way it all came about – and I won’t ruin it for you because I believe it’s worth watching without foreknowledge – offered up a moral dilemma about the business practices of Ray Kroc that inspired some debate between myself and my girlfriend afterwards. I still haven’t decided whether he was in the right, and I like that.

Of course, there are other elements that make this a great movie, not least the performances Michael Keaton (Kroc) and Nick Offerman and John Carrol-Lynch (The McDonald brothers), who bring some weight to their respective characters.

The only part that let it down slightly was the stuff about Kroc’s home life. It exists only to offer a sub-plot, presumably to stretch it out a little bit more, but I didn’t think it was touched upon enough to justify its inclusion.

That though doesn’t take much away from what I thought was a highly entertaining film and one that sets an example of the type of true story that studios should look to tell in the future.

It’s definitely worth seeing.