30 December 2014

The Must See Films of 2014

At long last, 2014 fades to a close as 2015 looms ominously before us, the passing seasons and changing of calendars alerting you to the ever quickening journey of life itself, the end of which is only getting closer every minute of your continuing existence. You start asking questions - did 2014 really last as long as other years? Have I achieved anything this year? What percentage of my life remains?  Will anyone remember me when I die? Has time started speeding up as my responsibilities grow, burdening me like an ever-expanding weight on my soul?  What good films came out this year?

Well it turns out that actually, 2014 has been a pretty good year for cinema - despite a few disappointments, the majority of anticipated pictures have lived up or even exceeded the hype surrounding them, a situation that comes around just once a blue moon. So I've made a list of the films released in 2014 in the UK that I would consider the ones you need to see.

This is by no means a definitive list - there are a fair few films that have been making the rounds in other lists that I never got round to seeing or haven't been released in the UK yet, but of the films I have seen, these are the ones I would most recommend, the films that for one reason or another I would consider 'required viewing'.

So, in the order that I saw them;

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street follows the life of Jordan Belfort, a real life stockbroker who lived a life of excess using the money of those he conned and lied to. A return to the biopic-esque structure of his previous films, Martin Scorsese once again proves he is a master of cinema in a confident, superbly directed film with a fantastic cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie and Jonah Hill, each giving excellent performances in career defining roles. A film of ridiculous highs and crushing lows, The Wolf of Wall Street perfectly encapsulates both the lure of power and the destruction it can cause in the wrong hands, and despite being based on a story 30 years old, still feels surprisingly relevant today.

26 December 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E10 "What They Become" changes the Marvel Cinematic Universe in big ways

An immediate continuation of "...Ye Who Enter Here", "What They Become" follows Skye as she meets her father after being kidnapped off The Bus by Ward while May, the Koenigs, Triplett and Hunter try to survive a surprise Hydra attack. Meanwhile, Coulsons attempts to access the city have proven unsuccessful, and with the loss of Mac into the city they have withdrawn for the moment, attempting an attack on the Hydra base nearby after rejoining with the agents on The Bus. It feels like a conclusion to a lot of what has been building for the last 9 episodes, while setting up future events and leaving some plot threads dangling in true mid-season finale fashion.

The long awaited scene between Skye and her father, The Doctor, is really well done, each character both excited and nervous to be finally reunited with their only remaining family, and constant references to Skye's true identity in previous episodes are confirmed in this episode in what is sure to be a big moment, not just for the show, but for the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, drawing on ideas from a future MCU film that isn't due to come out for years yet. It's an interesting development in the way that Agents of SHIELD interacts with the films, and I am hoping it is indicating that the events of the show will tie in further with the films from now on, rather than the show simply reacting the films when it needs to.

19 December 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E9 "...Ye Who Enter Here" sets everything in motion for the mid-season finale

"...Ye Who Enter Here" is the penultimate episode of the first half of this season, following Coulson, Mac, Simmons, Fitz and Bobbi as they head to the island where the secret underground city that they have been searching for is located, while the rest of the team (Triplett, the Koenigs, Skye, May and Hunter) track down Raina to ensure that Hydra don't take her in for their own nefarious purposes.

The cold open of "...Ye Who Enter Here" is a surreal trip into Skye's mind that gives a lot away about where the show is heading, specifically who she really is, and what she might become. There have been plenty of fan theories regarding Skye's real identity, and it looks like one of them in particular is correct, with several clues in this opening pointing towards her new identity, and a greater relevance within the Marvel Cinematic Universe - an identity that I imagine will be confirmed next episode, in the mid-season finale.

14 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies fittingly concludes the trilogy

A lot of people love the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it isn't hard to see why - you've got an epic, sweeping story of an adventure over an imaginative, richly detailed work with it's own unique back story that boils down to a story between good and evil. Peter Jackson's work on the Lord of the Rings films would be hard to criticise - yes, they are maybe to long, the extended editions a little too masturbatory, but considering the source material? It's a miracle that these films weren't longer. He seemed to be a director that is clearly capable of enormous restraint, managing to prioritise the narratively important moments over less important parts that appear in the books.

And then King Kong happened. And happened. And carried on happening until over 3 hours had past, completely unaware that it had long ago lost any of the interest the audience once had in it. King Kong was a bad film, mostly due to this colossal run time, and is a film I can't see many people jumping to defend. So when Peter Jackson announced that he would be directing a version of The Hobbit, a relatively short book, I got worried. When he announced it would be done in 3 films, I got really worried.

11 December 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E8 "The Things We Bury" digs up and examines the past

I thought I was being smart with the title word play, but I guess thats the entire reason this episode was called that.

Set during the second world war and onwards, "The Things We Bury" is once again an episode of multiple plots that are linked in small yet meaningful ways, partly uncovering the truth of Doctor Whitehall, partly delving deeper into Wards past and partly moving forward the ongoing season wide plot, the mystery of The Obelisk (or as it should be know, The Diviner) and the missing city. Each of these otherwise separate plot lines tie into each other in interesting and occasionally unexpected ways, making "The Things We Bury" one of the better written episodes that this season has offered up so far, and continuing a pretty impressive streak of good episodes.

5 December 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E7 "The Writing on the Wall" starts to answer the big questions

"The Writing on the Wall" is another episode of two clear, distinct parts, a common situation that Agents of SHIELD has found itself in these last few weeks. Half of this episode deals with the teaser at the end of last weeks episode, where we saw a strange man having Coulsons's carvings tattooed onto himself, and progresses the mystery of the carvings significantly as Skye, Coulson, Fitz, Simmons and Mac learn an awful lot about SHIELDs past and the GH-325 formula. The other half of the episode deals with the fact that ex-agent Grant Ward is finally on the loose again after escaping at the end of last weeks episode, and has Agents May, Hunter, Triplett and Morse attempting to track him down.

29 November 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E6 "A Shattered House" pushes the show in new directions

"A Shattered House" has Coulson and Co reacting to an attack on the U.N by Hydra agents claiming to be SHIELD,  part of plan to further tarnish the name of SHIELD in response to the recent infiltration of Hydra by Agent Morse and Agent Simmons. Coulson attempts to limit the damage done by bargaining with a senator that is both very vocal and very involve in the ordeal, while Agent May, Agent Hunter and Bobbi Morse go on the offensive, taking the fight to Hydra.

"A Shattered House" is another episode that contains multiple plot threads pulling in different directions, focusing more on creating and maintaining a season wide plot, while at the same time having a villain for a part of the episode to focus on. Parts of the episode feel much more standalone than the series has been recently, and other parts of the episode are much more character driven. The ending of "A Shattered House" is entirely set up for the rest of the season, and it's super exciting to see where they are going with the show - a statement that I wouldn't have been able to say with a straight face for most of the first season.

27 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 shakes up the series in a big way

Despite having devoured the books when I first got my hands on them, I'm not a massive fan of the previous Hunger Games films. Both The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire were adequately made science fiction/action films for the young adult audience, but I never saw what was so special about them to the world at large, and I particularly didn't get all the praise that was heaped on Catching Fire, which was for the most part a repeat of the first film with changes to the yearly gimmick of the Hunger Games. If I hadn't already read the books, I would have been worried that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 was going to again repeat the formula of the other two films if it hadn't of been for the last few minutes of Catching Fire, showing us the beginning of a revolution taking place and Katniss waking up in District 13 after being rescued from The Arena as part of a long planned rescue mission.

It turns out that District 13 is and always has been at war with The Capitol, whether The Capitol know it or not. Led by President Coin, District 13 is a militarised state that exists entirely underground, preparing for a full on offensive on The Capitol when the time is right. They need Katniss to play the Mockingjay again in a series of propaganda films in order to keep the fires of the revolution burning in the districts, but The Capitol still has Peeta, and is using him as a counter weapon to try and calm the tension by providing a more reasonable, peaceful figurehead to Katniss and her apparent thirst for the blood of The Capitol.

21 November 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E5 "A Hen in the Wolf House" continues moving the season forwards

"A Hen in the Wolf House" returns to the season wide plot that was sacrificed last episode in order to tie the 3 main story threads that have been introduced so far together, using everyone's favourite, flower-dress wearing woman and her manipulative ways to unite (and pull apart) the various factions that the show is currently focusing on.

The main story here follows Agent Simmons, still deep undercover within Hydra, as she discovers that they are preparing to utilise the Obelisk seen in previous episodes as a large scale weapon - as soon as they can get their hands on it. While passing this information back to SHIELD, her message is intercepted and Hydra's Head of Security quickly becomes very suspicious of the goody two shoes ex-SHIELD employee. Meanwhile, Raina is on a mission to retrieve the Obelisk for Hydra from Skye's father in order to save her own skin.

14 November 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E4 "I Will Face My Enemy" shows us The Cavalry in full force

"I Will Face my Enemy" sees a disconnect from the season wide plot that has been building up over the previous 3 episodes. The main plot follows Agent Director Coulson and Agent May as they attempt to steal a painting that mysteriously survived a monastery fire, and that has also been carved with the strange markings that both Garrett and Coulson started drawing after the injection of the GH-325 serum. The story of the episode itself is lacking in comparison to this seasons other episodes, but its fairly obvious that this episode exists for one reason only - the entire thing is building up towards a pivotal fight scene starring Agent Melinda May at the end of the episode.

13 November 2014

Interstellar - Visually stunning, ambitious, and yet ultimately, flawed

Christopher Nolan is one of the few directors that can walk into a meeting with a studio and walk out with $150 million to spend on an idea. He's a smart director, frequently creating some of the best blockbusters around with a strong sense of direction, a realistic feel and an intelligent, larger than life idea. I'm a big fan of Nolan's work, with Inception being one of my favourite films, a larger than life concept grounded in reality, filled with great performances and a strong thematic core.

Interstellar follows Joe Cooper, an all American ex-Astronaut turned farmer, who is very aware of the fact that his planet is dying as dust storms frequently ravage the planets surface and crops wither and die thanks to a micro-organism known as Blight. After discovering some strange gravity anomalies in his daughters bedroom that lead him to a secret NASA facility, he reluctantly agrees to leave his family and travel to a different galaxy in order to seek a new habitable planet for humanity. 

9 November 2014

Doctor Who S8E12 "Death in Heaven" ends the season on a whimper

"Dark Water" left Doctor Who in a position to deliver one of the best season finales that Doctor Who has ever had, with the monstrously evil Missy having seemingly already put her plan into action, Danny Pink trapped in the Nethersphere, about to delete his emotions and Clara trapped in a room with a Cyberman. There are so many places to go from here, and the no doubt emotional story of Danny confronting the child he killed could have taken up half an episode in itself.

Instead, "Death in Heaven" fails to deliver on any off these cliff hangers in any real way, instead choosing to take the final episode of both the season and the two-parter in an entirely different direction. What could have been a finale compromising of three separate story threads instead opted to tie them all together into one anti-climactic and ultimately unsatisfying ending.

6 November 2014

Nightcrawler shows us the dark side of ambition

Nightcrawler opens with a series of still, serene shots of the best side of Los Angeles, shots of Ferris Wheels and beaches and brightly lit streets, before cutting to our main character, Lou Bloom, as he cuts down a metal fence for scrap. It's a grim, dirty train yard we find ourselves in, a stark contrast to the colourful and safe view of LA we saw a second ago. A graffiti covered train rumbles past in the background, and a rough looking security guard confronts Lou about being in a restricted area. Lou spots that the security guard is wearing a nice looking watch, and under the guise of handing the security guard some ID, attacks him. Lou is wearing that watch for the rest of the film, a reminder that if Lou wants something, he will get it.

Nightcrawler follows Lou as he attempts to become the most successful nightcrawler in LA. A nightcrawler is someone who races to accidents or crime scenes and films as much as they can, selling the footage to news stations, who pay better the more graphic the footage is. After making his first sale, Lou realises he needs better equipment and more manpower, hiring the down on his luck Rick as an intern, paying just $30 a night.

4 November 2014

Doctor Who S8E11 "Dark Water" is incredibly dark

It seems to have been a very long time since the last two-parter Doctor Who episode, with Moffat himself declaring way back that these elongated episodes were the main problem with Doctor Who, despite them frequently being the best episodes that Doctor Who has ever offered. And now, Moffat has gone and ended season 8 on a two-parter that he wrote himself.

"Dark Water" is the penultimate episode of Season 8 of Doctor Who, and naturally expands on what's been teased throughout the last 10 episodes. The spoilers start almost as soon as the episode does and don't stop for the whole run time, so details are going to be light - but this episode deals with the mystery of Missy and The Promised Land/Nethershpere, the recurring plot thread that has been dangling all season.

30 October 2014

Fury offers a fresh spin on a tired genre

Set near the end of the Second World War, Fury follows a close-knit tank crew and their new member, Norman Ellison, as they continue the advance into Germany under the command of Don 'Wardaddy' Collier in the eponymous tank 'Fury'.

It's the first film set during the Second World War that I've seen in a long time, and considering the vast wealth of films that have exhausted this period, Fury actually has a fair amount of originality to it. The time frame of the end of the war, when the Allies where guaranteed victory and the fighting from the Axis was more desperate, gives the film a much different feel to other war films in that regard - there is a much greater sense of desperation from both sides, tired from a war, with any kind of organisation of troops lost as things got more chaotic - and that only works in Fury's favour.

28 October 2014

Doctor Who S8E10 "In the Forest of the Night" fails on multiple levels

Doctor Who has always been somewhat of a question mark in terms of quality - you never know just what an episode has in store for you the majority of the time, and you can be in for a real treat one week and an unmitigated disaster the next. Admittedly, the show levelled out somewhat when Moffat took over, removing both the highs and the lows in order to preserve a consistent line of good enough, a line that has been slowly creeping higher and higher as this new, Peter Capaldi led season goes on. But "In the Forest of the Night" perfectly encapsulates the ever oscillating quality of Doctor Who, providing an episode that, despite potential, ends up doing an almost aggressive amount of things wrong.

"In the Forest of the Night" follows Clara, Danny and a gaggle of school kids as they discover that the entire surface of the Earth has been covered in thick foliage over night. Naturally, this has pretty much shut down the entire world, so Danny takes it upon himself to get the school children under his care home safely. However, one of the more troubled children has gone missing (great job Danny), and has somehow stumbled upon The Doctor and his TARDIS.

22 October 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E3 "Making Friends and Influencing People" continues to develop the Agents

A lot of people have been wondering where Simmons is and what she is up to in the wake of last season and Fitzs condition, and "Making Friends and Influencing People" answers that question while continuing the shows significant increase in quality since the second season began. This episode mainly follows Simmons as we learn about her whereabouts and reasons for leaving SHIELD, before throwing us into a conflict with an character we last saw in season one.

Without getting spoiler-y, there simply isn't a whole lot that can be said about this episode. There are a lot of reveals here - this may be the episode that moves the plot of the season forward the most so far, giving us a ton more information about the layout of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while also having a lot of really good, but very much plot-centric, character moments back at base.

21 October 2014

Doctor Who S8E9 "Flatline" finally gets Clara right

I've moaned in the past about just how often Clara is promoted to leading an episode, but "Flatline" seems to really make it work. Set predominantly in Bristol, the majority of the running time is spent following Clara and her unlikely gang of misfits as they attempt to survive while they figure out the cause of a series of disappearances in the local area. It's another Doctor-lite episode - The Doctor is trapped inside the functionally useless and rapidly shrinking TARDIS for nearly all the episode.

The actual concept of "Flatline" is that people are being transformed into two-dimensional objects by forces unknown, demonstrated by the pre-opening credits segment of the episode. It's an interesting concept, certainly unique in Doctor Who as far as I know, but in the end it's only used to provide another 'monster of the week' like set of villains for the Doctor to ultimately defeat. Although slightly underwhelming in that sense, the design of these monsters is amongst the best that the series has ever offered, with some excellent CGI being used to provide a creepy, unique enemy that seems genuinely dangerous, a feeling that is only heightened by The Doctors inability to take action throughout most of this episode.

14 October 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E2 "Heavy Is the Head" proves a show can get better

I was worried that last weeks episode of Agents of SHIELD, "Shadows", was going to be a fluke. I sat through the first season patiently as it got better, but the show never got great - it always suffered from slightly dull characters and slow, plodding dialogue, even as the show got better after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was hoping - no, I was basically praying - that Agents of SHIELD could retain the new found quality of "Shadows" for as long as possible.

And it has!

"Heavy is the Head" opens with an exciting pursuit, set immediately after the events of "Shadows". It's a great way to start the episode, throwing the viewers straight into the action - something that season 1 of Agents of SHIELD would most likely have saved for an episode finale. The main plot continues from there, with Agent May in pursuit of Creel after the death of Agent Hartley and Idaho in the car crash at the end of last episode. Meanwhile, Hunter is captured by General Talbot, and coerced into betraying Coulson in exchange for $2 million and a proper burial for Hartley. 

13 October 2014

Doctor Who S8E8 "Mummy on the Orient Express" keeps the season on track

After last weeks polarising and yet also really interesting "Kill The Moon", the post-episode teaser for "Mummy on the Orient Express" looked to be a much more fantastical episode that would be rather forgettable in the grand scheme of things, but, more importantly, the first episode of the season without Clara Oswald in it. This seemed to be the start of that part of the season when the Doctor gets to "go it alone" for a while  - similar to how Tennant had several adventures companion-less during his last season.

I was wrong. Clara is still around in "Mummy on the Orient Express", despite the revelations of "Kill The Moon". It feels like an episode was skipped somewhere that would have dealt with The Doctor as he has to travel alone for a while - instead, we get an awkward apology and the sense that one of the most important events in their relationship (The Doctor contacting the Clara to apologise or to try and make amends) happened off screen.

"Mummy on the Orient Express" takes place on the only train called The Orient Express to travel through space. It's a 'last date' type affair for Clara and The Doctor after their argument in "Kill The Moon", Clara's way of ending on a good point (or so she keeps telling herself). But, as is prone to happen whenever The Doctor takes his TARDIS somewhere, it's not long before they are in the middle of murder mystery type affair, with victims claiming to see the decaying remains of a mummy walking towards them exactly 66 seconds before they drop dead.

9 October 2014

Gone Girl may be one of the best films of 2014

Gone Girl is a film that primarily revolves around the idea of perspective, whether that be a husbands perspective of his marriage, a wife's changing perspective of her husband, the perspective of the police in a missing persons investigation or the perspective of the media as the investigation develops. It follows the disappearance of Amy Dunne from the small town where she lives and the growing media circus surrounding her husband, Nick Dunne, told from both Nick's point of view during the investigation and Amy's point of view in flashbacks taken from her diary, two narrations that offer very different perspectives of the same marriage.

6 October 2014

Doctor Who S8E7 "Kill The Moon" - The most controversial episode yet?

Oh, good god. And I thought the weirdly old fashioned gender roles in "The Caretaker" was a problem. "Kill The Moon" may end up being the most controversial episode of Doctor Who yet, and if there were allegations of Doctor Who being slightly sexist before, this episode will not have helped at all, at least to anyone who understands the importance of allegory and symbolism. There is a reason that companies advertise and government use propaganda to influence a population - humans are extremely susceptible to suggestion, whether they are aware of it or not.

"Kill The Moon" follows The Doctor, Clara, and (for some reason) Courtney, Clara's problem student as they travel to the moon in the year 2049 in order to make Courtney feel special as the first woman on the moon. When they get there, they find that the Earth is in serious peril from the moons ever growing weight, which has caused havoc with the tides, sinking major cities and resulting in Earth sending a small crew of astronauts to the moon in order to destroy it.

1 October 2014

Why Dredd deserves a sequel

Dredd deserves a sequel. Released in 2012, it achieved a cult following nearly overnight despite performing poorly at the box office thanks to just how good it actually was, and how refreshing it was to see an 18 rated action film amongst the terminally 12A landscape. Shortly after the announcement that Dredd hadn't made enough money to fund a sequel, the imaginatively titled "Make A Dredd Sequel" campaign was started, with the intention of proving that there was an audience for a second Dredd film.

Today marks the second Dredd Day of Action, a day organised by the Make A Dredd Sequel campaign where anyone who wants to see a Dredd 2 is meant to do everything they can to promote the film, such as buying new copies, watching the film through streaming services and introducing the film to new people. I'm going to be telling you why Dredd deserves a sequel.

30 September 2014

Doctor Who S8E6 "The Caretaker" takes care to be not rubbish

Doctor Who used to be a bi-polar TV show, providing it's fair share of good and bad episodes since the shows rebirth in 2005, until it settled into monotonous mediocrity when Stephen Moffat took over as show runner for the Matt Smith seasons onwards. But I'm trying to figure out if this mediocrity has been broken by the new season, that has gone from good episodes to bad episodes to disappointing episodes to episodes that exceed expectations. Is this a sign that Moffat is learning to take the same risks that Russell T. Davies did? I hope so. Anyway...

The plot for "The Caretaker" has a rogue piece of alien technology hiding near Clara's school, and as such The Doctor goes undercover as the school's caretaker in order to, well, take care of it, much to the chagrin of Clara, who is trying to take her relationship with Danny Pink more seriously. However, Clara is finding it difficult to balance her real life with her other life and is struggling to keep her double life secret, showcased by the excellent opening sequence that demonstrates the hectic nature of living a double life and the determination of Clara to continue to have her cake and eat it too.

28 September 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E1 "Shadows" is the start of a much better show

Despite excellent fan buzz from the Marvel Studios brand and the Comic Con preview, Agents of SHIELD got off to a bad start, with the first half of the first season putting many people off the show entirely thanks to the mediocre writing and "monster of the week" style episodes. Agents of SHIELD was a procedural crime drama set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and not a very good one at that. People switched off and never came back,. despite the second half of the first season being a significant improvement. The disbandment of SHIELD, the discovery of the TAHITI project and the Agent Ward reveal really helped the show find its feet and deliver a series that was worth watching, with the quality of the writing and the show itself improving as it progressed. Agents of SHIELD was given the green light for a second season, with show runners promising that this new found quality would continue. 

"Shadows" delivers on that promise. A common complaint that followed the first season of Agents of SHIELD was that it didn't feel like a Marvel film, a complaint that appears to have been both heard and dealt with. The villain of the week premise that haunted the previous season seems to have been scrapped, with "Shadows" seemingly setting up a long form plot for this season to follow, involving the ever present Hydra and a new villain, The Absorbing Man, who can take on the molecular properties of any material he touches. And our time isn't wasted with a 15 minute introduction to how he got his powers - he walks into the show fully formed, an entirely acceptable concept being as this is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

23 September 2014

Doctor Who S8E5 "Time Heist" is good enough, I suppose

It's taken 5 episodes, but the new series seems to have settled back into Moffats signature of being 'just good enough' with the latest episode, "Time Heist".

"Time Heist" has The Doctor and Clara robbing the most secure bank in the universe without actually knowing why, with the help of Psi, a technologically upgraded human, and Saibra, a shape shifter who can take on the form of any living thing she touches. The bank is guarded by a psychic alien who can sense guilt, and as such the group have to have their memories erased in order to enter undetected, forming the central mystery of the episode - who hired them?

14 September 2014

Doctor Who S8E4 "Listen" is all atmosphere, no weight

Aha. The scary episode. Monsters under the bed, in the reflection of the mirror, in the corner of your eye. Behind you. Sounds like good stuff. And it's written by Stephen Moffat, current show runner and writer of some really good episodes, including the infamous "Blink" and the excellent "Silence in the Library". After "Robot of Sherwood", this should be a refreshing change of pace, hopefully a call back to the scary episodes of the Tennant era which have been missing for some time now.

"Listen" is a hard episode to pin down. It opens with Clara on her belated (and eventually, disastrous) date with Danny Pink, before moving to The Doctor and Clara as they research a theory that The Doctor has about things that go bump in the night, the idea that evolution has never produced a creature that can hide perfectly - at least, not one that we know of. This research ends up involving a very young Danny Pink in the past and a descendant of Danny Pink in the future and (without giving too much away) a young child on a far away planet.

9 September 2014

Doctor Who S8E3 "Robot of Sherwood" is an unfortunate misstep

 "Robot of Sherwood" is the seventh episode that Mark Gatiss has written for Doctor Who since the show was modernised in 2005, and continues his streak of writing some of the most forgettable episodes that the show has to offer, with his last attmpt "Cold War" being the only episode of Doctor Who I have ever fell asleep during. In this episode we are taken to the time of Robin Hood at the behest of Clara, despite The Doctors insistence that Robin Hood isn't real. Lo and behold, he is real, and whimsical hi jinks with a very slight sci-fi flavour ensue.

31 August 2014

Doctor Who S8E2 "Into the Dalek" rejuvinates an old enemy

Daleks. Easily the most overused, least surprising enemy that the Doctor has to face whenever they show up (and they always show up). The look of dismay on my face as the Next Time section of "Deep Breath" showed us these now cheesy, boring villains expressed my feelings about these enemies perfectly - they are simply no longer interesting, having been over exposed to audiences for the past 7 series, and I actively dreaded their inevitable return in this series.

It turns out I'm wrong.

"Into the Dalek" breathes new life into these tired old tubs, making them feel both genuinely threatening and more complicated than the obviously evil, hate-filled, genocidal maniacs (that are coincidentally useless when confronted by The Doctor) that we have seen in the past. Rusty, as the Doctor calls him, is a broken Dalek. Barely functional, but also radically different from his kin, this is a Dalek unlike any other - this is a Dalek that hates Daleks, instantly intriguing the Doctor. Shrunk down to microscopic size, The Doctor, Clara, and the soldiers who found Rusty agree to enter is body and repair what is broken.

28 August 2014

Lucy is silly, pulpy goodness

Director Luc Besson is most well known for Leon: The Professional, the shockingly good film that everyone should see at some point. It is this directors name on Lucy that got me excited about the film in the first place, advertised as a female led sci-fi/action hybrid. The story follows Lucy (unsurprisingly), a student living in Taiwan, who is tricked into delivering drugs to an international gang by a new boyfriend. They quickly force her into becoming a drug mule for a new experimental drug that is placed surgically inside her body, threatening her and her family if she fails to do as they wish. The bag containing this drug ends up breaking, giving Lucy a huge dose of this new drug, resulting in her being able to utilise more than 10% of her brains capacity, with super powered results.

27 August 2014

Doctor Who S8E1 "Deep Breath" shows promise

I am not a long term Doctor Who fan. It was the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor that peaked my curiosity in the show, and had me watch all the episodes from the beginning of the "new" episodes in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston to the end of Matt Smith era within the period of a few months, having watched Time of the Doctor (the final Matt Smith episode) merely weeks ago.

I would now consider myself to be in the strange position of being well-versed in the world of The Doctor without actually being a fan. The show fluctuates between good and bad episodes frequently, with the "rules" of time travel and the functionality of certain devices (the Sonic Screwdriver being the worst for this) being inconsistent from episode to episode, rewritten as the show progresses, often as some kind of Deux Ex Machina in order to resolve the hole that the writers have written themselves into. I say this as a kind of disclaimer, that I am by no means a long-term fan of the show, very much willing to admit flaws when they exist. That being said, I seem to be in the minority when I say that Deep Breath was a good start to the new season.

1 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is a ton of fun

It's a well know fact that Marvel Studios take risks, a tradition that started during production of Iron Man. Based on a second tier superhero that few people had heard of, starring an actor that was still trying to get his career back on track after highly publicised substance abuse problems, the script hadn't been completed when filming began and much of what you see in the finished product is improvisation. The result? A critical and financial success, paving the way for Marvel Studios to create some of the highest grossing films ever made. The risk had paid off.

This, however, feels like a bigger risk than Iron Man was. With James Gunn at the helm, Guardians of the Galaxy takes the action of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into deep space, following Peter "Star Lord" Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destoyer, Groot and Rocket Racoon as they attempt to save the galaxy from Ronan the Accuser, a Kree supremacist who is attempting to destroy Xander, home of the Nova Corps, an intergalactic peace keeping force.

24 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has no good guys

Dawn of the Planet of the Planet of the Apes is not content with letting you root for one side or the other. It shows you, in detail, exactly why each side of the conflict is doing what they are doing, and how small misunderstanding or rash decisions can impact events in entirely unpredictable ways. It doesn't let you see one side as good guys and one side as bad guys - your in depth knowledge of the reasons for the actions that people take makes everyone a good guy with understandable motivations. And when the bullets start to fly, the slaughter on both sides feels real and horrible and completely unnecessary. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a smart film.

30 June 2014

How to Train your Dragon 2 doesn't quite soar

The first How to Train your Dragon may be the best film that Dreamworks has ever released. It was a surprisingly good coming-of-age film that followed Hiccup, son of the Viking Chief Stoick, as he learnt that dragons were not the monstrous enemies they once thought, but instead gentle, friendly creatures that were misunderstood, forced to attack Berk by an unknown force. Its strong, character based story allowed it to remain focused on the central theme of compassion over violence, making it one of the best films released in 2010.

How to Train your Dragon 2 picks up 5 years after the events of the first film. An older Hiccup is dating Astrid now, and the village and villagers have fully embraced dragons into their life. Stoick is ready to make Hiccup the new Chief, but Hiccup has other ideas - he is exploring the world outside of Berk with his dragon Toothless, trying to put together a map of the world while also searching for another Nightfury, a partner for Toothless. While exploring, he finds out that someone is amassing a dragon army, and naturally tries to talk them out of it. Meanwhile, Hiccup meets someone from outside of Berk, known as the Dragon Rider.

26 June 2014

Chef is a real feel-good film

About 30-45 minutes into Chef, there is a scene where Jon Favreau, director and leading man of the film, shouts and rants angrily at a critic for a solid 3 minutes about how he does nothing but shit on other peoples dreams, so I feel incredibly thankful that Chef was a very good film.

Chef is the story of Carl Casper, who buys a food truck and tours the USA with his friend and his son after losing his job at a restaurant and losing his mind at a food critic, becoming an overnight internet celebrity. And that's it really - the story is simple, allowing the emotional hook of the film (Carl's relationship with his son) to be front and centre.

16 June 2014

22 Jump Street is the first great comedy sequel

Comedy sequels are strange beasts, usually unwilling to take the risks that made the first film popular, instead relying on references to jokes from it's predecessor to get "That was funny in the first film and I remember it" laughs from the audience. They often end up feeling tired or unoriginal, and as such are usually less memorable and less funny than the first film, devoid of the creativity that made the first film a success. 22 Jump Street acknowledges this issue with comedy sequels, playing it through with a nudge and a wink, giving the audience a comedy sequel that is genuinely funnier than its predecessor.

5 June 2014

Edge of Tomorrow makes Tom Cruise likable again

We are living in a strange, strange world. The new big budget, action/sci-fi blockbuster starring Tom Cruise isn't expected to do very well in the box office despite a lack of other action/sci-fi films released this year. This is shame, because Edge of Tomorrow is actually really good. Without giving away anything that the trailers haven't, the basic premise is that there has been an alien invasion. We join the film as a last-ditch assault on the land the aliens have invaded is about to be undertaken, with our main man Bill Cage being sent to the front-line for the assault, where he gains the ability to go back in time to the start of the day whenever he is killed. Another soldier in the battle, Rita Vrataski (better known as the Full Metal Bitch), recognises his power as something she used to have, and helps him train.

26 May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past gets the X-Verse back on track

X-Men: Days of Future Past is kind of a sequel to X-Men: First Class and kind of a sequel to The Wolverine and kind of a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand, but not really.

Let me start over.

X Men: Days of Future Past is an almost complete reboot of the laughably poor X-Men "continuity". By the end off this film, it is safe to assume that the events of X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine simply never occurred, and that we have no knowledge of this universe from 1973 until 2023. This is known in comic books as a retcon, or Retroactive Continuity - bits of the film universe that they don't like have been written out, which funnily enough ends up being almost all of it.

22 May 2014

Godzilla understands the importance of restraint

There has been a lot of criticism aimed at the new Godzilla film regarding the use of the titular character. Everyone from film critics to Facebook friends have slated it thanks to the limited screen time Godzilla actually gets. I disagree, and to understand why we are going to have to talk about the over exposure of destruction and the concept of action fatigue in modern films.

Man of Steel is a great example of a film that suffers from action fatigue. About halfway through, Zod and his group find Superman in Smallvile and proceed to level the town in a pretty good action scene. It lasts a decent amount of time and has innovative action beats, with characters being suitably strong and cool to watch. Later, we have a much longer action scene focusing around Zod and Superman, battling in a destroyed Metropolis. What should have been the most interesting fight scene in the movie ended up being a mostly forgettable mess - partly because of the characterisation issues the film has, but also because we have been over exposed to Superman and Zods power. We've been watching them fight for so long that we have lost our frame of reference, and end up tired of the fight and lose interest in the story. Action fatigue is an issue that a lot of films fail to address, and I'm sure that Gareth Edwards knows this on some level, giving us Godzilla as the counter.

18 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kind of sucks

Disclaimer time: I pretty much hated the first Amazing Spider-Man. It's one of the most forgettable films that I have seen in recent years, and was only made so that Sony could keep the rights to the character. It was a business move rather than a film made by people who care, and it showed. I went into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with pretty low expectations, and a good idea of what was going to happen in this film thanks to the spoiler filled advertising campaign.

From the second it starts to the very last frame, this film does an awful lot wrong. It may be the messiest, least restrained film I have seen in a long time - scenes interrupt each other, plot points are started and then dropped, only to be picked up an hour later and never finished, characters come and go and then disappear entirely - and it all ends up feeling illogical, unstructured and dissatisfying. It honestly feels like the film wasn't even really edited - a scene involving a pre-Electro Max Dillon feels like it never should have seen the light of day, and a very out of place evil scientist feels like he walked straight off the set of a bad James Bond porn parody.