Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides REVIEWED

(Also posted on tumblr, guys. Experiment.)

Yo ho me hearties! Today I went to see the new Pirates movie. I certainly had mixed feelings on going in, because of the largely negative reviews it’s been getting from the critics. There was much in the film to justify their negativity, but it was nonetheless enjoyable to me.

I thought the acting was much better all round than in the previous episodes. Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow continues to be one of my favourite cinematic characters, and the performances of Ian McShane and Geoffrey Rush were nicely piratical. With the other characters I was less enamoured, although overall it was well enough done.

Rob Marshall’s direction sparkles with wit and there are many great visual moments. However, it can’t really hold together the muddled script which seems to move pointlessly from one action scene to another without great reason. Some seems shamelessly cribbed out of other films, including unexpectedly The Italian Job. There seems to be very little real tension within the first and second acts, so the film largely mopes along until it draws towards the climax. The five principals seem to drift in and out of the story on occasions, and there is very little sense of narrative cohesion until the later part of the film. I thought while watching the previous films that the writers had a talent for creating great individual moments but were less proficient at shaping an entire narrative - On Stranger Tides reinforced this message.

The special effects and cinematography are spectacular, as befits a Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer movie. However, the proliferation of very dark scenes, made worse by watching in 3D, started to irritate me as I simply could not see what was going on. Overall, the film cannot hold a tallow candle to The Curse of the Black Pearl, but in a climate of so many magical realist/fantastical movies, it stood out because of its strong central character, its direction and its wit.

Verdict: 6/10

twitter: @antmoorfield

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People REVIEWED

It seems this blog has rather degenerated into merely reviewing this series of Doctor Who. Which is no bad thing, but certainly not what I intended it for. But I have so little time. So I keep telling myself.

Anyway, let's review Doctor Who. SHOOT.

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, set in a characterful island monastery, is a story telling of a group of researchers who make doppelgangers of themselves in order to carry out their "dirty work". A lightning storm gives these so-called Gangers the freedom to act independently of their human counterparts, and the stage is set for a classically Gothic Frankensteinian adventure. This is exactly the kind of story that Who should be telling; a philosophical morality tale as much as an action-adventure, an exciting concept to go along with the explosive storytelling.

The setting was once more fantastic - while the production team have still not got away from the Earth-centricity of the Russell T Davies era, at least we've moved away from grimy North London housing estates, hopefully for good. A Gothic medieval monastery on a desolate rocky island. The production made full use of the gorgeous Welsh architecture available to create a grandiose but decayed complex suitable for such a story. The strong cast held together the complex narrative well, although I felt there was one too many workers, which made certain scenes a bit full. A problem that occasionally seems to plague Who is stilted dialogue - a sense of unnaturality and over-exposition within character conversations was visible within this story as well. On the other hand, the totally absurd opening sequence of The Rebel Flesh, which sees two of the characters laugh off the accidental killing of the third (a Ganger, of course, we later discover), set the scene beautifully and neatly introduced us to this episode's main theme, the sanctity of life.

How we define someone/something as human, another integral concept, was intelligently explored through the character of Jenny, whose sequences with Rory offered both a gorgeous appraisal of the value of human memories and a way of exploring Amy Pond a little more. The portrayal of Amy as selfish and as taking Rory for granted throughout the series has partly alienated many viewers, me included, so I was very pleased that we were shown through her loneliness and partial helplessness without Rory that their relationship is two-way. This is another interesting angle that I hope will be explored further as the series progresses.

The conclusion of The Rebel Flesh was predictable, but that of The Almost People was certainly not. It sets up the mid-season finale something awesome, and that is some Northern slang I never expected to use in a review. Finally, the best thing about this two-parter was the way it was put together rather like a complex jigsaw. Everything that happened made perfect sense, and nothing felt forced or thrown in. I'd more or less worked out the twists (aside from the very last one!), but they didn't feel in any way obvious. It's a testament to the quality of the writing that the story invited such intelligent viewing. All that remains for me to say is OMG MOFFAT... Roll on next week.

Verdict: 7/10+9/10. Overall: 8/10

twitter: @antmoorfield

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Doctor's Wife REVIEWED

Oh hai there internet. Our conversations have become a lot more unidirectional lately because of my revision and such. But now I finally get the chance to talk to you after all this time.

Much like the Tardis in the latest Doctor Who episode!

(Nice segue.)

So the Doctor's Wife. Well, I loved it. Definitely in my top 20 of all time, and possibly top 10. God, it was so frikkin' good!

I love everything that Neil Gaiman has ever written, so I was expecting to love this episode too. The steampunk setting of the Tardis graveyard and the patchwork people were such intrinsically Gaiman concepts. I thought the whole episode was so beautifully realised by the design team. It's a world away from the bright garish colours of earlier series, and of that I am hugely thankful. (On Confidential, Gaiman read from the stage directions of the script, which even written is a thing of beauty, and I was particularly taken with his description of the asteroid as the "Totter's Lane at the end of the universe". And if you don't understand that reference, go and watch An Unearthly Child now.)

The idea of the Doctor talking to the Tardis could have potentially been a terrible one. I think if another writer had done it, it could have descended into a sentimental, over-reverent pile of slush. But, Gaiman being Gaiman, he gave the Tardis character, Idris, such a mad, sexy, weird and wonderful characterisation that I instantly fell in love with it. Suranne Jones' fantastic portrayal really brought the Tardis to life, and her interactions with Matt Smith were simply joyous to watch. I loved the Pull To Open sequence, which has in an instant solved a debate that's been going on for forty years in the fandom, and there were so many other little references to Who history that it'll take me a number of rewatches to take them all in, I'm sure.

Finally we got to see the inside of the Tardis! Oh man. So good. The last time we really saw any of the other rooms was way back in The Invasion of Time, where it looked, as Neil Gaiman put it on Confidential, like an old-fashioned brick-built Victorian hospital. Probably because it was filmed in an old-fashioned brick-built Victorian hospital. But anyway, the idea of the Tardis being able to move its rooms around and delete them is very cool, and it was great to see the previous control set once more. It did amuse me that the corridors Amy and Rory were lost in had obviously not changed since the early 1970s! Rory's death this week was very unpleasant, and the whole thing about being lost in time in the corridors I thought was handled brilliantly. Though I don't know where the paint to write "Hate Amy, Kill Amy" on the walls came from....

Other things very quickly: Michael Sheen is a complete dude, I loved Auntie and Uncle and hope similar characters reappear, the built Tardis was brilliant and the little keyboard was such a great touch that only a child could have designed it, and, well, I wouldn't mind being inside Suranne Jones. *clears throat quickly* Er, I mean the Tardis. Yeah. 

Verdict: 10/10

Twitter: antmoorfield. kthxbai

PS. Since I didn't bother to review The Curse of the Black Spot last week, here's a one sentence reaction. Fun, throwaway episode, short on character and with a thin premise that could have been explored further, but still worth watching. Verdict: 6/10.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Day of the Moon (BSDA #20)

Good evening, planet Earth! (Or Europe/Africa at any rate. Other time zones, good day, or something.) It's Saturday - that means DOCTOR WHO. Review starts in five seconds. Five, four, three, two, one -

So it's episode two already. And there's only seven in this half of the series. Schade, as the Germans say. Better make it good, Steven Moffat, I thought to myself at five to six this evening.

HE DID. Whoa. In order to prevent myself from just blathering (and probably slathering) all over the screen for the next ten minutes, I am going to write this review in BULLET POINTS.

Plot - Genius. I'm a massive fan of the late 1960s and of space travel. I thought the way of getting rid of the Silents was absolutely wonderful. The power of people watching something together has always fascinated me, and it was interesting to see Who sci-fi that concept up. And with the old Moffatian trick of there being something we don't know about right behind us all the time, it manages to be awesome.

  • Style. Crazy, but in a good way. I felt the episode was a massive mishmash of styles, from creepy haunted house, to action thriller, to political comedy (some of the Nixon lines were utter brilliance), to love triangle story, and that was occasionally jarring. It seems to be a theme of late to switch from style to style to keep the audience on their toes. Mostly I like it. But it can be overdone.
  • Timey-wimey weirdness. I love timey-wimey messing around. This episode took that to the MAXIMUM, man. I don't think any scene followed on from the previous chronologically and with the obvious sense of time passing with the Amy in haunted house scene, the whole thing felt very disturbingly uncontrollable. I like. 
  • Amy, Rory, River, the Doc - LOVE? This, I have mixed feelings about. I feel the whole is-Amy-attracted-to-the-Doctor angle to be a bit irritating. I really identify with Rory and so it sort of annoys me a bit to see the narrative try to draw you towards the Doctor-love idea. Secondly, the River/Doctor story I find really powerful. It's genuinely moving. I just hope it doesn't turn into slushy romance, like RTD made the Tenth Doc and Rose storyline. As a traditionalist, I don't really like the idea of a romantic Doctor at all. He is an eccentric old alien. But maybe Moffat can make it work. We'll see.
  • Why the Silence are a genius narrative device. Because you can mess about with time, implant bits of the narrative elsewhere and create a constant sense of confusion in your viewers. Also it occurred to me that you'd be so screwed if you were in a room with Silents and Weeping Angels at the same time.
  • Time Lord Girl? Crazy. Speculation welcome.
  • Lady in the door? Also crazy. Apparently she's in at least two more episodes. Weirdness. Are we dealing with more parallel universe oddness? I hope so.
Verdict: 9/10

Right. Bye. Semi-coherent blogpost is semi-coherent.