Movies: Death Wish (2018) Review

April 9, 2018

I’m the sort of person who falls asleep watching TV if it’s after 8pm, so to go to the cinema for a 9pm showing of Death Wish seemed like a bad idea.

Unfortunately that was the only chance there was to see it, as it’s only shown at that time, but I love the original, so needs must.

So one can of Red Bull later and I was in my seat for a movie that realistically wasn’t going to start until near enough 9.30pm. I crossed my fingers and hoped I stayed awake.

And I did. Yay!

Now when you consider that I’ve fallen asleep in quite a few movies shown at much earlier times, like Rogue One, Doctor Strange and others, then that’s no mean feat, and a credit to Death Wish.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not going to tell you this is the greatest movie of our time, because it’s not. In fact, it’s a pretty ordinary remake of the original, and a plot we’ve seen rehashed many times over the years in other movies. Essentially it’s about a man who becomes a vigilante following personal loss, and a perceived sense of injustice in how the police have dealt with that loss.

I like that basic plot. It’s fun. It’s what my girlfriend describes as a ‘Boys Film’ (note: this is the first movie I’ve seen at the cinema without her in over two years because she had no intention of coming). It has a man killing bad guys in darkly humorous ways and it doesn’t last too long; what’s not to like?

Bruce Willis – while no Charles Bronson – is good, and Dean Norris essentially plays Hank from Breaking Bad again, which is cool.

If you like that sort of thing too, then you’ll also enjoy it.

Just don’t expect a masterpiece…

Or anything quite as hammy as when Charles Bronson killed The Giggler.

Advertisements

TV Review: Colditz (1972-1974)

April 1, 2018

Over by the self-service checkout area at Sainsburys last Christmas was a selection of classic TV boxed sets, including the likes of The Saint, Danger Man and Survivors. I suggested for a Christmas present from my parents that they just choose one at random that I hadn’t seen, and hoped for the best that I’d enjoy it.

They got me the 1972-1974 British drama, Colditz.

And I loved it.

It was obviously a show I had heard of, but my knowledge of the plot only extended as far as it being about British POWs held in an ‘escape-proof’ castle.

But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Yes, there are lots of escape attempts, but it’s mainly about the relationships between the prisoners and also between the prisoners and their German captors. And it’s the latter relationship that I found the most engrossing.

I think it’s fair to say that by and large, the Germans in WW2 dramas and movies are presented as the evil enemy, and yet in Colditz – based as it is on the experiences of those who were in the POW camp at the time – this isn’t the case. Coming under the jurisdiction of the Wehrmacht rather than the SS or Gestapo, it’s run by mostly honourable people – Germans of the Old School – who are at pains to ensure that their prisoners are treated fairly and within the terms of the Geneva Convention. Yes, in the second season the writers include the entirely fictional boo-hiss villain, Major Mohn for the purposes of added drama, but it’s the likes of the Kommandant (played by the king of 1970s BBC drama, Bernard Hepton) and his chief of security, Ullman (Hans Meyer) who are the ones that reflect the type of German who ran the camp. In fact, I found myself rooting for them thanks to their restraint in the face of being constantly tested by British officers often acting like children.

With solid acting all the way through, and a cast – both regular and guest – of fine actors that you’ll probably recognise, Colditz is the sort of drama that you just don’t seem to get anymore. It’s slow building, it has episodes based around one-off guest characters (and the finest example of that is the jaw-droppingly good Tweedledum, about an officer who pretends to everyone around him that he has gone mad in a bid to be sent back to England on compassionate grounds), and the entire quality of the show rests on the strength of the acting and writing.

It certainly made me invest in it emotionally and come away from the final episode wanting to learn more about the realities of the way the camp was run.

I would offer Colditz my highest recommendation. In an era of throwaway NetFlix shows that are often pretty dull, this is one of the finest dramas I’ve watched in a long, long time.


Movies: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri Review (or “Not My Cup of Tea”)

January 30, 2018

When lots of people passionately recommend a film to me, and then I watch it and don’t particularly enjoy it, I wonder if it’s my issue or theirs.

Why is it I don’t like this critically acclaimed picture that so many people rave about?

Sometimes it’s a mystery, but other times it’s obvious and in this case I know exactly why I don’t see the attraction in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.

I just don’t like this relentless churning out of movies and TV shows set in rural, backwater parts of the USA. The environment doesn’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t want to live there and I tire of seeing actors put on these exaggerated accents and pretend to be country bumpkin hicks.

If Three Billboards had a gripping, fast paced story then I might have enjoyed it more, but unsurprisingly given the setting, it was pretty slow and ponderous as it examined life in ‘Disenfranchised America’. It’s as if stories told in that neck of the woods are incapable of being presented in any other tone.

But don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t bad. The plot did have some merit – even though I thought it lacked any sort of proper conclusion – and I can understand why people like it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

For purely aesthetic reasons I would consider this one to avoid, however in the likely event you don’t have that seem level of disdain for the setting as I do, and don’t mind your movies to be slow and ‘sleepy’ then you should give it a chance.


Movies: The Post Review (or “Interesting, But Not Exciting”)

January 29, 2018

When it comes to The Post, I reckon you’re going to be in one of two camps; either you’ll have found it interesting or utterly boring.

My girlfriend Mhairi certainly thought it was the latter.

To her, the trailer made it look like it would be an exciting watch, but all that stuff only happened in the last 15 minutes, by which time it was devoid of any drama.

It just wasn’t her cup of tea.

I enjoyed it though. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exciting and if I’m honest it was more than a little bit worthy, but it provided an account – whether entirely accurate or not – of an important point in the history of the government vs the press that is often overlooked in favour of Watergate and other scandals.

And I also enjoyed it because of its strong cast of recognisable, high quality actors, not least Tom Hanks.

Could it have been better? Yes, of course it could. I don’t think it would be fair to expect it to be exciting, but if I was to have one major criticism, it would be that it’s about the Washington Post rather than the New York Times, who were the ones who actually released the Pentagon Papers in the first place. Would they not have been the better choice to focus on?

For me at least, this is a movie I would recommend going to see, but be aware that you could just as easily come away from it finding it as boring as Mhairi did.


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.


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.