Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review (or “Generic But Better Than Expected”)

June 11, 2017

I consider myself a fair-minded person.

So despite Mark Gatiss routinely delivering episodes at the poorer end of the spectrum – which would make you wonder why he keeps getting asked back to write more until you remember that he’s Steven Moffat’s bezzie mate and nepotism is rife in the world of TV writing – I sat down to watch The Empress of Mars with an open mind.

It might be good.

Maybe…

Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review – What’s This One About?

Like a lot of Mark Gatiss’s episodes – seven out of his nine episodes actually, which makes you wonder how much imagination he has – it puts aliens in a period setting.

Well…if we’re being fair it puts period humans in an alien setting, so I guess he probably though he was being clever.

Thoughts – Better Than Expected But Very Generic

Right, I’ll get this out of the way now; I liked The Empress of Mars. I know, I’m as surprised as you.

Classic Series fans around the country lose their shit at Alpha Centauri showing up voiced by the same woman…

As a standalone episode watched in isolation on a Saturday night, this did the job fine.

It had a good setting, identifiable characters and a simple plot to follow.

But – and I expect you knew there’d be a but – it still had its issues.

If I was to be overly critical I’d say that this was an episode written in the most generic of terms.

While Knock, Knock felt like it was written for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and while many of the earlier episodes of this season were penned with Bill in mind, The Empress of Mars appears to fit any Doctor and any female companion.

Hell, it could even have worked with any group of humans and any alien.

And that’s not good.

It sums up the Gatiss style. He’s good at coming up with the setting, but his characterisation is lacking.

That being said, I will repeat that I did enjoy it overall.

The Vault

I’m at the point now where I take issue with The Vault.

In the early episodes of this season when we didn’t know who or what was inside it, the writing was that Nardole did not like the idea of the Doctor leaving Earth in the TARDIS because if he went away for a while

Meanwhile the younger viewers share Bill’s expression of “It’s just an eye”.

then the planet would be in danger from its contents.

That’s fallen by the wayside.

Now that we as viewers know what’s in it, that’s been forgotten about.

Now not only do they all go off on their travels together without fear of Missy doing anything, but Nardole is happy to take her off on a jaunt in time and space.

That’s poor. It’s like when a good-natured character has shockingly been revealed to the viewer – and only the viewer – as being evil, then they start acting evil all the time. It annoys me.

But then that’s probably Moffat’s fault rather than Gatiss’s.

Random Observations

  • I imagine classic series Doctor Who fans around the world lost their shit when Alpha Centauri showed up, voice-acted by the same woman as in the Peladon stories from the Pertwee era. I thought that was kinda cool too.
  • Do you get the feeling that – much like some early episodes in this season – it was written without Nardole in mind?
  • Going back to what I was saying about it being generic, I don’t think the way Bill reacted to being in a war zone – seeing men being killed in front of her and not even raising an eyebrow – was in keeping with her established character.
  • I’m not doubting that this wasn’t researched and therefore wasn’t possible, but how could a guy who was hung for desertion be reinstated as the leader of a platoon of men? At the very most, surely if it didn’t work they’d have just sent him home?
  • Catchlove was probably the most one-note boo-hiss panto villain seen in the show for a while.
  • Certain parts of this episode felt very convenient. For example, beyond giving them a reason to go to Mars and to marry up the beginning and end of the episode, why were the Doctor and his chums in that NASA control room at the start? And why – beyond engineering a situation where Nardole wasn’t in it and Missy got out of the vault – did the TARDIS suddenly leave?
  • The timeline of the Ice Warriors really doesn’t make sense to me, but I think that’s another article for another day.
  • Also, why is there never any continuity with the Ice Warriors’ guns? Either from the 1960s would do me fine. But now they seem to have ones that disintegrate humans and tie up their clothes in a neat bundle for washing.
  • The Ice Warriors weren’t voiced by Nicholas Briggs again. I bet he’s fuming.

Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review – Final Thoughts

When you sit down to watch a Mark Gatiss-penned episode of Doctor Who, you expect a few things.

  1. A period piece
  2. A decent idea in principle
  3. A story written for almost any Doctor or companion
  4. Paper thin characterisation
  5. For it to be shite

We hit four of the five today, but thankfully the one we didn’t was number five.

This was actually decent enough.

So I’m as happy as I think I have any right to be.

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 – Unlocked Review (or “Clunky But Enjoyable”)

May 10, 2017

Apparently the bar for being considered a Hollywood A-Lister has been lowered just a little bit based on the description of the lead actress in some reviews of Unlocked.

I’d honestly never heard of Noomi Rapace before, and a quick look on IMDB shows she’s appeared in very few English language productions. How is she an A-Lister?

The answer is that she’s not, and in truth she wasn’t even good enough to star in a throwaway movie like this that nobody will remember in 2018.

She might well be a terrific actress when speaking in her native tongue – she was the star of the Swedish versions of The Millenium Series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc) after all – but she struggled to adapt to acting in English. Without wanting to sound all xenophobic and Brexit about it, it is the case that people who act a part in a language that isn’t their own can struggle to deliver lines with the correct inflections and so it drags their performance down.

So she was pretty clunky.

Mind you, so were most of the English speaking actors in the cast, including Orlando Bloom – trying his best to act like Grant Mitchell off Eastenders – and Michael Douglas. Really, the only one who stood out in a positive way was John Malkovic.

To be honest, the plot was pretty clunky too. It was very much a by-the-numbers anti-terrorism/24/Spooks style story with ridiculous swerves and some daft motivations.

And yet, I actually enjoyed it.

It was stupid, but it was fun. it didn’t do a whole lot to stand out as amazing but it was relatively short, it didn’t lull and it kept me entertained.

What I would say though is that it’s the sort of movie I’d only recommend going to see if you have an Unlimited Card for the cinema.

It’s what I’ve described before as the sort of movie you’d watch on a plane, but would be annoyed if you paid full price.

 


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…

 


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.

 

 


Movies – Hidden Figures Review

February 20, 2017

There have been a fair amount of cinematic releases over the past few years that have dealt with the lack of equal rights in the USA in the early-to-mid 20th century, so in that regard Hidden Figures is hiddennothing ground-breaking.

But each time the subject matter is dealt with, it’s still makes you pause for thought and consider how backwards society was not so long ago.

How true the events of the movie are is difficult to tell as it all felt very feel-good and schmaltzy – with Kevin Costner’s character in particular seeming to have 21st century ideals in regards to race relations – but that was fine considering the tone of Hidden Figures was markedly different to that of a movie like Selma.

I think it was just meant to be a bit of light fun with an underlying message to make you think, and if that is the case, it achieved it. I certainly enjoyed it, and felt the casting was pretty much spot on. The only area where I thought it suffered was that while it was meant to tell the story of all three women, the focus was almost entirely on Katherine Johnson. That’s not a bad thing as her’s was probably the most interesting story, but the adventures of Mary Jackson were barely touched upon.

As a final note – and I know I mentioned this last year in my review of Midnight Run but I feel the need to say it again – what has happened to Kirsten Dunst? She’s the same age as me, yet easily looks a good 10 years older now.

Worrying.

Anyway, Hidden Figures is good. I recommend seeing it.