Movies – Dad’s Army Review (or ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’)

February 16, 2016

Years ago I went to an amateur dramatics society’s version of the BBC sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo.

It wasn’t up to much.

But it was still performed better than the new Dad’s Army film.

Before going, I did think that it might be a disaster because to me, the success of the Dad’s Army TV series was largely down to the quality of the performers.army

What made Captain Mainwaring a memorable TV character was not how he was written, but how Arthur Lowe portrayed him; it was his comic timing and pomposity that made him funny. The same goes for all of them. Mostly – with the possible exception of Clive Dunn – the actors were playing extensions of their own selves.

And so any remake without that original cast obviously comes with the risk that the new actors will simply be doing impressions, rather than playing the characters.

That’s exactly what happened.

But they weren’t just doing impressions, they were doing terrible impressions.

Well, they didn’t all do impressions I suppose. Bill Nighy just played the same character he plays in every single thing he’s ever been in; he played Bill Nighy.

Apart from him though it was like a bunch of actors who shared the physical characteristics (or in the case of the bizarrely cast Bill Paterson, shared the same nationality) of the original cast were given a Dad’s Army boxed set and told ‘Just copy them’.

With that said, the worst of the lot was the supposedly respected actor Sir Tom Courtenay’s attempt at Corporal Jones. I’ve never seen anything like it. Perhaps the problem was that instead of hiring a younger man and dressing him up as an older one, they just cast a tired old man who could barely get the words out.

It was all just rather sad.

And it wasn’t funny either. Though I heard the occasional laugh in the cinema today – and indeed almost chuckled myself exclusively at some of the lines from Michael Gambon’s Private Godfrey – the 100 minutes played out in front of silence. That’s never a good sign for a comedy.

Partly this was down to the acting, and partly it was because they tried to recreate the style of humour of the original without an audience to laugh at the jokes. It was never going to work.

The only credit I’ll give Dad’s Army is that the plot – basic as it was – worked. Catherine Zeta Jones played a Nazi spy working undercover as a magazine columnist doing an article on the Home Guard. Naturally she managed to string the troops along for most of the film until it comes to a head in a reasonably exciting final 20 minutes.

But that’s not nearly enough to cover up for the flaws here.

I think they should just have left Dad’s Army alone. It’s repeated often enough and will simply never be bettered.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Movies – Spotlight Review (or ‘Engaging and Engrossing, But Is It Worthy?’)

January 31, 2016

While I certainly don’t want to be swayed by other people’s opinions before going to see a movie – a notion that I accept is somewhat ironic considering I’m writing a review that will probably influence the opinions of others before they see it – I did read a couple of conflicting views of Spotlight from people I know before venturing out to the cinema last night.

One person said that he thought it was excellent; a gripping ensemble piece where the cast – pardon the obvious pun for the second review in a row – share the spotlight so that there is no obvious lead.spotlight

Another guy said he thought it was far too ‘worthy’; a predictable and plodding movie designed with the intention of winning Oscars rather than telling a good story.

Now those are two contrasting views at the opposite ends of the spectrum. If you read them before you go to see it you wouldn’t know if you were going to be engrossed or annoyed.

So what did I think of it?

Honestly, though I err towards agreeing with the first guy, I can understand to an extent what the second guy is talking about.

It’s true to say that this is a great ensemble piece. The likes of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James share equal amounts of screen time and don’t stand out as obvious leads.

But then it’s also true to say that thanks to Mark Ruffalo, it does feel a bit ‘worthy’. Personally, I felt he let the side down because he was so obviously ‘acting’, and though the types of people who give out Oscars are known to love that sort of thing, I don’t. To me, a good actor is someone who makes it look like the character they are playing is them being normal. The rest of the cast manage this easily, but Ruffalo – with his fake accent, occasional shoutyness and over the top body language – just came across as someone doing an impression. He’s trying too hard.

I disagree with the second opinion though where he said that it’s plodding and predictable. To me the movie never slowed down or became dull, and the two hours flew by. Predictable? Well there weren’t any shock twists like it turned out that the kids were raping the priests, but what do you expect? It’s a true account of the slow and painstaking process good journalists must go through to complete a story.

And I suppose that’s at the heart of the matter, isn’t it?

If that sounds interesting to you, then you’ll enjoy it. If you go along looking for something more thrilling and action packed, you probably won’t.

But if it’s the former, then the movie does a great job of explaining how the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe happened upon the cover-up going on in the Catholic Church, and gave an insight into how Boston society as a whole managed had previously and unwittingly swept it all under the carpet.

I guess you’ll just have to decide for yourself whether or not that sounds interesting.


Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review (or “A Pleasant Surprise”)

July 2, 2015

A few months ago I was asked by a reader of this blog to review Kingsman: The Secret Service, but since it had only just finished at the cinema and I hadn’t gone to see it, I couldn’t oblige.

Why it didn’t catch my eye when it was on, I couldn’t tell you, but a quick google search shows that it had mixed reviews, with The Telegraph giving it one star (describing it as obnoxious) and Empire Magazine awarding it four stars, which by their standards means ‘excellent’. Perhaps I only caught the negative ones.

Anyway, since that request, I’ve seen nothing but praise for this movie; not from the press, but from punters who went along and loved it.

Someone even described it to me as one of the best films they’ve ever seen.

So this morning, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch it.

Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review – What’s It About?

Not so much a parody but a comedic love-letter to spy films of old,Kingsman is about a young working class Londoner who is brought in to a top secret – and incredibly upper class – British spy agency, and must

It can't be often when the lead actor in a movie doesn't even get his name on the poster

It can’t be often when the lead actor in a movie doesn’t even get his name on the poster

help save the world from an evil billionaire who plans to use mobile technology to cull most of mankind in a bid to save the planet from ecological decline.

Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review – Who’s In It?

Though I wasn’t familiar with lead actor Taron Egerton (which is unsurprising considering he only seems to have five acting credits to his name), Kingsman is loaded with well-known actors like Michael Caine, Jack Davenport, Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth, Mark Strong and even Mark Hamill.

Quite the collection.

Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review – My Thoughts

There’s a scene halfway through the film where Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson discuss how spy films are so serious nowadays and that the old James Bond films with the over-the-top megalomaniac super villains were much more entertaining.

Now clearly this is a metatextual reference to what Kingsman is trying to achieve, and I think it sums it up perfectly.

As much as people like the Telegraph’s movie reviewer might think this is obnoxious, for my money it’s what spy films should be about.

Kingsman has the thrills, spills, action scenes and special effects that you would hope to get from any James Bond type movie and indeed it’s probably got quite a bit more violence, but it does it in a way that’s designed to entertain and make people chuckle; something which modern Bond has forgotten.

But Kingsman adapts it for a modern age and a modern viewer. There’s humour, there’s lots of swearing – and not for shock value, like when Judi Dench swore in Skyfall and Bond forums went into meltdown, but rather because it’s just how people talk – and there’s a certain appeal to it that should mean most people find something to enjoy.

The story itself has a good flow that not only builds up the main character to the point where he’s equipped for the final showdown with the villain at the end, but also allows for high points to keep you entertained until he gets there. I found the scene in the church quite a daring thing for any film to present.

And speaking of daring, the joke at the end where the Princess declares that if Eggsy manages to save the world, she’ll give him anal sex was controversial but hilarious. It’s a joke that’s designed to go one step further than the sort of cheeky ‘Bottoms Up’ style joke you’d find in some of these older films, but takes it that deliberate step over the edge. The zoom in on her bare arse just hammered that point home.

If I was to criticise it for anything, it would be that the way it’s directed – with each action sequence filled with slow shots – seems to weighted too greatly towards viewing it in 3D. That sort of gimmickry has long since past its sell by date.

To sum up though, I found Kingsman: The Secret Service to be thoroughly entertaining and would give it the thumbs up.

If you haven’t seen it yet, look it out.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 


Wrestlemania XXX Review (or “Nope, That’s Not The Name Of A Porn Film”)

April 7, 2014

This time last year I sat here and wrote a scathing review of Wrestlemania XXIX.

I don’t often do wrestling reviews, but I was so disillusioned by the poor quality on show that I felt I had to.

Here’s how I summed it up…

As a viewer since 1991, I must admit my interest in the WWE product is at an all time low, and I saw absolutely nothing atWrestleMania 29 to make me feel positive about the weeks and months ahead.

A Great Way To Start The Show

A Great Way To Start The Show

That’s how bad it was.

A lot has happened in the last year though, and since the massive fan backlash at the Royal Rumble, there have been signs of an improving product.

And that leads us to the present and WWE’s latest offering, Wrestlemania XXX (which isn’t a porn film).

WWE Wrestlemania XXX Review

I’ll go through it on a match by match (or segment by segment) basis.

The Hall of Fame Ceremony: Ok, a quick detour first of all to the previous night’s Hall of Fame Ceremony. I can only echo what others have said. In order, in terms of speeches, Lita was incredibly dull, Jake Roberts was just breathtakingly

amazing, Mr T was unintentionally hysterical, Kane’s speech for Paul Bearer was enjoyable, Scott Hall was short, effective and to the point, Carlito was the only amusing bit in an otherwise super-dull Carlos Colon speech, and The Ultimate Warrior was fantastic. I especially loved the way Warrior thanked the people who really helped him in his career rather than the usual suspects. Overall, a great watch.

The Tag Title Fatal Fourway: A decent way to kick things off in the pre-show. The right team won, but it’s a bit odd that Cesaro was the one to take the fall. The split was a sign of things to come,

The Opening Segment: Hogan, Austin and The Rock all in the ring together exchanging barbs to start off with? That’s about as good as it gets. Well, I’d have preferred it if Bret Hart was in there instead of The Rock, giving it the whole “Uh…well…uh…you know…uh….Hogan is a piece of shit” stuff, but hey, you can’t have everything. The Rock doesn’t do much for me, but Austin and his “What” stuff is still gold, and the way they got round Hogan accidentally calling it the Silverdome twice was genius. A great start.

Triple H vs Daniel Bryan: As you would expect, it was a solid match, although Triple H’s entrance was a bit stupid. Stephanie McMahon is a very effective character these days too.

The Shield vs Kane & The New Age Outlaws: Well, it was over with quickly, but then why wouldn’t The Shield make short work of a trio of semi retired older men?

Aaaaaaaaaah!!!!

Aaaaaaaaaah!!!!

The Battle Royal: I’m disappointed that were weren’t one or two legends in there, and I don’t really get why they didn’t just announce that the likes of Tyson Kidd and Yoshi Tatsu (can you believe he won the battle royal at Wrestlemania XXVI?!) would be in it in the pre-match graphic, but it was a nice little battle royal. The Kofi Kingston spot was impressive, although he seems to be employed purely for high spots in matches like this. The right man won though in Cesaro, and the sight – and reaction from the crowd – of seeing him slam the Big Show over the top rope was superb.

John Cena vs Bray Wyatt: While I enjoyed it, I feel the match went on just a little bit too long, and I also think the wrong man won. While Wyatt shouldn’t have won cleanly, he still should have emerged the victor. Losing doesn’t do much to help him on the face of it, while Cena losing would have done nothing to his status.

Brock Lesnar vs the Undertaker: Wow. Who the hell saw that one coming? In the pre-determined world of pro-wrestling, very little can shock a viewer as long-term as me. Sure, things can pleasantly surprise me (like the Cesaro victory in the Battle Royal) but not *shock*. This shocked me. And it shocked everyone.

Now sure, all the logic of pro-wrestling said Lesnar should win considering the Undertaker dominated him in the run up to the show, but this is The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. He doesn’t lose. And even though it was quite obvious he was old, run down, not a patch on the guy he was even two years ago and – to be blunt – looked like an old drag queen, and even though he was up against a beast like Brock Lesnar, wrestling logic would not allow anyone to believe the Undertaker wasn’t taking the win.

So I thought that was fantastic – even though the rest of the match was shit – and I loved the crowd reaction. Grown men were crying and some left in disgust, but that’s what wrestling can just so very occasionally do to you. Superb. I would say The Undertaker should now retire, and from listening to what the commentators were saying, I think that might be what happens.

The Divas Match: An absolute mess. To be fair, I’m sure it would be difficult for any male wrestlers to create a good match in similar circumstances, but it still came across as amateur hour. As a fan of Total Divas, my mum wanted to watch this match, but even she could only say “That looked so fake” as all the Divas queued up on the outside for that Bellas plancha spot. The crapness ended when Naomi managed to botch tapping out. *groan*.

Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton vs Batista: So Daniel Bryan got his happy ending after all. It was a decent match and included a gruesome lookingPowerbomb/RKO spot through a table, and a nice cameo from Triple H & Stephanie, but I

Undertaker lost? This guy can't believe it either

Undertaker lost? This guy can’t believe it either

think most people were still just shocked at Undertaker losing. To give the wrestlers credit, they *almost* had me believing that Batista would win on those two near falls.

Wrestlemania XXX: Final Thoughts

Apart from the Divas, this was a rock solid Wrestlemania for the first time in a long time. Indeed, it’s easily one of the best they’ve ever done.

Without doubt the polar opposite of the abysmal Wrestlemania XXIX.

Storylines were concluded, new superstars were made and there was nostalgia aplenty, but the big story was the Undertaker’s loss.

I just don’t think anyone saw it coming.

Tonight’s Raw should be very interesting.

 


Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Eleven: #20 – #11

January 21, 2014

#20 – Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, 2011)Skyrim

There are two ways of looking at Skyrim. The first is that it’s one of the deepest and best looking games ever made, and the second is that it’s just a pretty spreadsheet.

I’ve seen it from both perspectives.

Once I had completed the main story of this one, I just didn’t feel the need to continue, even though I know I should go back to it. But it occurred to me that beyond the main story it did feel quite repetitive and just a case of collecting things into a list and then giving those same things away to other people.

It’s still a momentous achievement in gaming though, and well worthy of inclusion in the Top 20.

#19 – Dead Rising/Dead Rising 2 (Xbox 360, 2006 – 2010)deadrising

A great idea for a game that’s well executed. Though I personally didn’t feel the need to do more than one play-through of either game, I know people who did, and I can understand why.

It’s not possible to do everything in one run on Dead Rising.

While both are essentially the same game, that’s ok. Cutting through hordes of Zombies in a shopping mall/Las Vegas is worthy of a sequel.

That I won’t get a chance to play Dead Rising 3 on the Xbox One is a disappointment.

#18 – Borderlands 2 (PC, 2012)borderlands2

While another First Person Shooter features higher up the list on the basis of its multiplayer mode, Borderlands 2 is for me the best single player FPS of the last generation.

Deep, great looking and with a challenging but progressive learning curve, Borderlands 2 also managed to be quite funny as well.

You can pick it up dirt cheap now too.

#17 – Everybody’s Golf: World Tour (Playstation 3, 2008)everybodys golf

For my money, a better game than any of the Tiger Woods series.

As much as it’s fun to play with real golfers on real golf courses, I prefer playing against the more colourful anime style Japanese characters of this Playstation franchise.

It’s also a more polished game than Tiger Woods too.

Sadly, this is the top golf game because Nintendo never bothered to release a new version of Mario Golf on the Wii, and even if they had, it would have had crappy motion controls with the Wiimote.

It should be pointed out though that the classic Mario Golf style is a copy of the Everybody’s Golf match engine. And that says all you need to know.

#16 – 42 All Time Classics (Nintendo DS, 2006)42-all-time-classics_4115717

Just a genius idea for a game.

As much as developers will try their best to come up with new and innovative styles of gaming, the old classics are often the best.

What would you rather part with you hard-earned cash for? A dodgy stylus based DS game with no replay value like most of the early DS releases, or a game that includes 42 well-known and much-loved board and card games?

42 All Time Classics worked as both a game you could play on your own and one you could easily play through link up with other DS owners, and moreover, it actually explained the rules of some of the more complex card games in a succinct and understandable way.

Definitely one of the MVPs of the last generation

#15 – The Bigs 2 (Xbox 360, 2009)TheBigs2

You’ll notice that American sports games are conspicuous by their absence on this list. In the main, that’s because I find their sports confusing. So while I’ve bought basketball, ice hockey and American Football games in the past, the intricate rules and complex controls are a barrier to me really enjoying them.

Baseball games are the exception, but they are few and far between, especially in the UK.

While MLB: The Show on the PS3 was a technically sound game, it had no character.

But the Bigs 2 does; it has it in droves.

Sure, it’s a bit cartoony, with the home run power-ups and ridiculous catches, but that’s all part of the fun. The controls and rules are easy to master too. And unlike most sports games – even FIFA – its single player career mode was worth playing.

#14 – Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 (Nintendo Wii)mariogalaxy

It’s a 3D Mario platformer, so it’s going to be top-notch as a matter of course.

But the reason neither game – which are much of a muchness – enters my top 10 is because I felt they lacked the spark of Mario 64 or even Super Mario Sunshine. I’d sooner  play Mario and feel I was playing in a Mario “world” rather than a series of loosely connected levels.

Still brilliant though.

#13 – Geometry Wars 2 : Retro Evolved (Xbox Live Arcade, 2008)Geometrywars2cover

Five of the games in the top 13 could be described as basic, simple or “budget”, but to me, the last generation of games brought back that style of play.

Look at Geometry Wars 2; it’s a top down, old school shooter that could have been done on less graphical power in the 80s. All you need is the two thumb sticks and you’re good to go.

But this manages to look good, and play amazingly. The replay value is tremendous, as you try to beat either your own score or your online friends scores.

Wonderful.

#12 – Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (Nintendo DS, 2006)Partners in Time

As much as Nintendo – and Mario – are famous for their platforming games first and their sporty/racing games second, what Nintendo did best for some considerable time going back to the Gamecube days was make RPGs.

If I had done an article on the best games of the generation one before last, Paper Mario 2: Thousand Year Door would be in my top 2. It really was superb.

On a similar vein, the Mario & Luigi series for the DS was magnificent, and Partners in Time was easily the best of them.

I’m not a big fan of RPGs and find stuff like Final Fantasy to be a bore, but this just worked for me.

#11 –  Pinball FX 2 (Xbox Live Arcade, 2010)PinballFX2

Like Geometry Wars 2, this is a simple yet engrossing game. It is, after all, just pinball.

But again, it’s all about competing for scores. If I had no friends online to play against, I doubt I’d have played it half as much as I have, but the key is that if your friend beats your score, you then want to trump him.

So you end up playing each of the various tables time and time again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I played that fucking Rocky & Bullwinkle table before I finally bested my mate’s score, but I can tell you it was frustrating and rewarding in equal measures.

The variety of tables is excellent as well. It’s a game type you’d never tire of playing.

And One That Doesn’t Make It – MLB2k11mlb2k11

Easily one of the worst games of the last generation, MLB 2k11 was the drizzling shits.

I mean, how hard is it to map out the controls for a baseball game? All you need for pitching is a button for four different types of pitch, for batting you’ve got to have a normal, power and bunt swing button, and for fielding and base running just a few other buttons.

It’s easy.

Yet MLB 2K11 had the most ludicrous controls where you’d have to draw out weird patterns with the right thumb stick before you could pitch or bat. It was daft and needlessly complicated.

2K Sports have finally laid their grotty baseball series to rest.

Thank God.


Movies: 12 Years A Slave Review (or “Coasting On Subject Matter Alone”)

January 17, 2014

Long term readers of Stuart Reviews Stuff will know that in my reviews, I like to bring up the notion of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

By that I mean that certain things, whether they be films, games or TV shows are purported to be amazing just because people don’t want to go against the popular view.

And that’s true of the film I went to see today and the film which will inevitably win big at every award show going this year, 12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave Review: What’s This About?

I would regurgitate the synopsis, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll write exactly what this film is about.12-years-a-slave-quad

A black man is kidnapped into slavery in mid-1800s America, he’s beaten up for 2 hours and then Brad Pitt writes a letter for him so he’s freed.

12 Years A Slave Review: Who’s In It?

The lead – playing the part of the kidnapped protagonist Solomon Northup- is Chiwetel Ejiofor, and his supporting cast includes the likes of Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o.

12 Years A Slave: How Highly Is It Rated?

As you might expect from my opening remarks, this is a very highly thought of film with high marking reviews everywhere you would care to look. Imdb give it 8.5 from around 45,000 votes, both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic give it 97%, and as you can see from the movie’s poster, it gets 5 star reviews from critics all over the place.

Thoughts – So Why Don’t I Like It?

You might sit there reading this and think “Why doesn’t he like such a critically acclaimed movie?”. Well I’ll tell you.

But first I’ll tell you why I think people like it.

The subject matter is the key to 12 Years A Slave. It’s being described as a “shocking” and “unflinching” portrayal of how slavery really was, and that it pulls no punches.

And that’s true. You won’t hear me argue against that.

The thing is though, I suspect critics feel they dare not go against the grain and criticise such a serious subject matter for fear of trivialising it.

Well I’m not trivialising it either, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass and heaped with praise just because of the subject matter. I get that slavery was a horrible thing in the pre-Civil War Era, but surely anyone with half a brain knows that? Is the idea that some people think that slavery’s best representation is the Disney film Song of the South (even though that is set after the abolition of slavery I might add)?

I’ve seen films that deal with the way slaves have been treated; hell, look at Django Unchained as an example of that. And sure, that film was over the top, but the core message that the oppressive white man of the American South seriously mistreated slaves was in there alongside the comedy and the ridiculous cartoon violence towards the end.

But Django Unchained had more than that; it had entertainment value.

12 Years A Slave has no entertainment value.

I’m guessing we’re supposed to reflect on how bad things were back then after we watch it, but like I just said, I think anyone with common sense knew that.

So what does it have apart from that? Practically nothing.

As a story, 12 Years A Slave just doesn’t cut the mustard. Once Solomon Northup is kidnapped, all we have is two hours of him lurching from one set piece where he’s beaten up or mistreated to the next, with almost no storyline to it. Nothing develops and it’s just one long slog. Is that the point? Maybe it is, but that doesn’t make for entertainment.

I do tell a lie there though; the film is padded out with two side-plots that go nowhere. The first is a woman whose children are taken away from him, and that’s not resolved. The next is that evil Plantation owner Michael Fassbender has a sort-of-relationship with one of his slaves, much to the annoyance of his wife, and that doesn’t go anywhere either.

Then, with no real reason other than it was perhaps time to wrap things up, Brad Pitt arrives on the scene and sorts out his freedom.

It just had no flow to it, and I attribute that in some part to the director.

The Direction

Now, whenever you read anything about 12 Years A Slave, you’re told about the masterful job Steve McQueen did. I couldn’t disagree more.

Here are my main reasons for that…

  1. The film starts off with an entirely pointless prolepsis (flash forward). There was just no need for it; it’s an overused, lazy directorial trick that lost its impact as long ago as the TV series Alias.
  2. For a film entitled 12 Years A Slave, it would have been good to get some perception of how long he was a slave for. But there was none. None at all. Nobody appeared to age and there was no indication of the passing of time whatsoever. If you didn’t get told how long he was a slave in the title of the film, you wouldn’t know by watching.
  3. I think he thought that showing the results of people getting lashed would hit home, but I feel desensitized to that sort of thing now. That’s not his fault of course, but while some are saying what he did was groundbreaking, I would disagree.
  4. It isn’t made especially clear how or why he was kidnapped.

But I will give him some credit. There were a handful of very strong scenes in there, most notably the one where Solomon is left almost hanging, and the rest of the slaves just went about their business without even trying to help him. That was powerful.

And similarly, some of the scenes involving the character of Patsey and the jealous plantation owner’s wife were pretty shocking.

Those are not enough though, and what we were left with was so much dead screen time and repetition that with an hour to go I was almost climbing the walls with boredom.

I guess though that “Oscar-worthy” movies have to run way beyond the 2 hour mark to be taken seriously, eh?

12 years A Slave Review: Final Thoughts

When I was leaving the cinema tonight, I heard some of the things the other patrons were saying about 12 Years A Slave. In the main, they were discussing how hard-hitting and violent it was and how it made them think about slavery.

And I get that; I honestly do.

But I go to see a film to be entertained. I think it’s more than possible for a film to educate and entertain at the same time, and that should be the standard by which all great films should be held.

12 Years A Slave will show the people of 2014 just how bad slavery was, and it makes no effort to sugar coat it or to make it melodramatic or over the top.

But it didn’t entertain me. It had no progressing narrative, it had some ropey directorial moments and it just dragged on and on.

So do yourself a favour; if you want to be entertained, don’t bother. And if you want to be educated, there’s bound to be a documentary somewhere that does that better too.

 


Doctor Who – The Gunfighters Review (or “The Worst Story of All Time? I Hardly Think So!”)

August 4, 2011

There’s no accounting for taste.

If you read the last review, you’ll have read about how before people got a chance to actually see or hear some of these old stories again in the 80s and 90s, certain stories – like The Celestial Toymaker – had undeserved status as ‘classic’.

This next story is the polar opposite, because before people got a chance to see it, The Gunfighters was considered to be the worst Dr Who story ever made. That’s right – the worst.

David Graham – Looking as if he’s trying out for Planet of the Apes more than a Western.

How can that be? Well mainly we have our old friend – and President of the Dr Who Appreciation Society – Jeremy Bentham to blame. The same guy who decided that the Celestial Toymaker was a classic wrote in the 1980s Who Bible, Dr Who: A Celebration, that the Gunfighters was the worse than any other story.

And the thing is, people believed him and accepted his viewpoint as gospel, not daring to challenge the views of someone who ‘knew better’.

Of course, once the story was repeated on UK Gold and released on video and then this summer on DVD, people were able to make their own minds up, and fan opinion swung in the opposite direction…for the most part.

A quick trip to the Customer Reviews of the story on Amazon shows that some people still believe the hype. According to Alan D. Patten III, ‘most fans consider The Gunfighters to be the worst Dr Who Adventure Ever‘, and yet while he says he enjoyed it and was ‘in stitches‘ watching Episode 4, he felt it would be ‘unobjective’ to give it a higher rating than 2 stars.

Meanwhile, Jero Briggs considers it to be the worst story ever – even worse than Time & The Rani.

In Scotland we have a saying – “Opinions are like Arseholes; Everyone Has One” and I can quite accept that some people might not like the story, but under any objective and critical assessment, this is not the worst story ever. Nor do ‘most’ fans consider it to be either.

It’s the classic case of people not wanting to go against received wisdom, even when that wisdom is crap.

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

The TARDIS lands in the Wild West – Tombstone, Arizona to be precise – during the infamous dispute between The Clantons and The Earps & Doc Holiday.

The Doctor gets mistaken for Doc Holiday and eventually gets made Deputy Sheriff while Steven & Dodo are forced at gunpoint to sing and play the piano in the Last Chance Saloon. Later on Steven nearly gets hung by a lynch mob and Dodo

Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp are stunned by Billy Clanton’s Cockney Accent

goes on the run with Holiday and his girlfriend Kate.

In the second half, the villainous Johnny Ringo shows up, looking to kill Doc Holiday, and the Clantons manage to kill the youngest Earp Brother. And so the showdown is set – the two rival factions agree to meet for a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral…at sun’up.

Oh, and throughout the story, Lynda Baron narrates the story in the form of song.

Fantastic

Negative Thoughts

Ok, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first in a bid to understand why people don’t like this story.

Some of the accents provided by the supporting cast (and indeed Peter Purves) are very poor. Culprit in Chief is David Cole, who plays Billy Clanton. Try as he might, Cole just can’t do an American accent. In fact, his very first line “Oy ain’t scared of ‘oliday” is delivered in pure cockney, and throughout the story he slips back and forth between his American and Cockney tongue.

Then there’s David Graham – a well respected voice artist no less – as Charlie the Barman. Let’s just be kind and say he ‘overplays’ his part. With his sideburns and deliberately jutted-forward jaw, he looks and sounds like he’s auditioning for Planet of the Yankee Apes.

Meanwhile, Laurence Payne doesn’t even attempt an American accent. He just plays Johnny Ringo as an Englishman.

And of course there’s Shane Rimmer as Seth Harper. Much like David Graham, Rimmer is a voice artist (in fact, both played major parts in Thunderbirds) and while his American accent is acceptable, it’s the stutter that comes across a bit naff. Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius, he ain’t.

Moving beyond the accents, my only other issue with the story is the final shootout between the Earps and the Clantons. They appear to be no more than a few feet apart and are shooting directly at each other, and yet aren’t hitting their targets. Also, there’s no need for Dodo to get involved. But those are just minor complaints.

There’s my favourite Dr Who Top Trump of All Time – Pa Clanton. Spare a thought for him though…he’s just realised all his sons are away to be murdered. Poor old sausage.

Now, that’s it; those are the only issues I have with this supposed ‘worst story ever’.

But I’ve got plenty of things to praise about it.

Positive Thoughts – The Acting

When humour in drama misses the mark, it ruins a show. Time & The Rani is an example of that; it suffered from a combination of bad writing and truly horrific ‘comedy’ acting.

But when it works – as it did in The Romans – it works well. There isn’t a better example of comedy working in Doctor Who than in the Gunfighters. The writing (whether it’s the Doctor’s reaction to meeting the Clanton Brothers, his insistence that he isn’t Doc Holiday, the way he doesn’t want anything to do with events, his suggestion that they might be arrested on a vagrancy charge, the way he keeps referring to Wyatt Earp as ‘Mr Werp’ or many many other examples) is spot on and the acting – especially Hartnell’s – is absolutely superb.

I would go as far as to say that this story is William Hartnell’s finest hour as the Doctor. Apparently he always wanted to do a Western, and he appears to be delighted to have his wish granted. I’ve said it a few times in my reviews, and I’ll say it again here; when an actor is enjoying himself, it shines through onto the screen and makes the whole viewing experience more enjoyable. He also seems to be a little more willing to do things you wouldn’t expect him to do – the way he gets violently pushed aside by Bat Masterson is not what you’d expect from an unwell actor who, shall we say, didn’t suffer fools gladly.

As I say, this is Hartnell at his finest, and it’s his last ‘great’ performance, not just as the Doctor, but as an actor.

It’s not just him that makes the show so enjoyable though…

Peter Purves is once again solid as Steven Taylor, and for perhaps the only time, Jackie Lane is excellent as Dodo. With Lane in particular, it’s that she’s given something independent to do.

Most of the supporting cast is good to great as well, and a lot of credit has to go to the casting director for bringing in the likes of John Alderton (Wyatt Earp),  Reed de Rouen (Pa Clanton), Richard Beale (Bat Masterson) and especially Anthony Jacobs (Doc Holiday).

Jacobs has such a wonderful face for the type of character Doc Holiday is. It just epitomises a sort of sleazy cunning. Holiday – while a gentleman – is clearly a nasty piece of work, but Jacobs makes him likeable.

The Writing

How anyone can consider this story to be bad when it has a very respectable and solid plot, I’ll never know.

In particular, Episode 2 is just fantastic. I pointed it out above, but the entire scene in the bar where the Doctor meets the Clantons, accidentally has them at gunpoint, and then gets pushed around by Masterson and Earp is genius.

I wish more dentists advertised like this.

More than just one episode, the entire story flows from beginning to end. Everything that happens is reasonable and in keeping with the story, and is not just there to fill up time (like episodes 2 and 3 of the Celestial Toymaker). Nor is it in any way dull (like the next story, the Savages) and it doesn’t coast on the back of a having a ‘monster’ in it (like pretty much everything in the 1980s.)

And not just that – it’s got one of the best cliffhangers in the show’s history. Episode 1 finishes with the Doctor walking along to the Last Chance Saloon, completely unaware that the Clantons and Harper are waiting to kill him, and if that wasn’t enough, there’s a lovely little musical score to go along with it. While it doesn’t sound like much, the credit must be given to the director for making it as good as it is.

The idea of having narration done in the form of song also works well (other than the unnecessary repetition of the ‘Charlie the Barman’ song). It’s clever, it’s original and it works with the general mood of the story. Some people complain about this, but I think it adds to the whole thing marvellously.

Random Observations

  • I’d love it if more dentists advertised like Doc Holiday. A giant tooth hanging up outside instead of a shop sign? Genius.
  • The best Top Trump in the Doctor Who set is unquestionably Pa Clanton. Give me him over a Zygon any day.
  • But what a poor guy; all his sons end up being massacred. That’s the sort of human tragedy Doctor Who skips over.
  • In the Doctor Who Magazine readers poll, The DWM Mighty 200 (which will play a major part in these reviews later on), The Gunfighters finishes in 175th place. So while that’s slightly better than being the worst story ever, it’s still an absolute nonsense placing for a story as good as this.

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters Review: So Is This The Worst Story Of All Time?

Absolutely, unequivocally and without question, the answer is no.

Personally I go the other way. I think it’s one of the very best, and I say that in absolute seriousness.

It’s a well written, (mostly) well acted and genuinely funny story that keeps the viewer enthralled from beginning to end. No, it’s not science fiction, nor is it a historical in the sense that while it is based upon something that happened, it’s pretty much a completely fictionalised version of events.

There are no aliens or monsters, and the major villains are Johnny Ringo and Pa Clanton.

Maybe this doesn’t appeal to a certain section of Dr Who fandom – the sort who probably think Logopolis is a wonderful example of storytelling – but it appeals to me.

More than almost any other story I’ve reviewed so far, I give this my highest recommendation to watch.

Seriously.

[This review is included in my book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: The Classic Era. If you enjoyed reading this, pop along to Amazon and pick up a copy. ]