Film Review Round-up – COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011); THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) and REBECCA (1940)

10531351-1322658704-826498Cowboys & Aliens (2011; USA; DeLuxe; 119m) ∗∗∗  d. Jon Favreau; w. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby; ph. Matthew Libatique; m. Harry Gregson-Williams.  Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Abigail Spencer, Buck Taylor, Matthew Taylor, Cooper Taylor, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, Chris Browning, Adam Beach, Sam Rockwell, Ana de la Reguera, Noah Ringer, Brian Duffy, Keith Carradine, Walton Goggins. A spaceship arrives in Arizona, 1873, to take over the Earth, starting with the Wild West region. A posse of cowboys and natives are all that stand in their way. Starts out well but quickly descends into formula. Technical aspects are strong and Ford and Craig add much needed weight to an otherwise uninspired story.  Based on the comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Extended version runs to 135m. [12]

41WAWC1EV0LPurple Rose of Cairo, The (1985; USA; DuArt; 82m) ∗∗∗½  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Gordon Willis; m. Dick Hyman.  Cast: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello, Van Johnson, Alexander H. Cohen, Dianne Wiest, Zoe Caldwell, John Wood, Milo O’Shea, Deborah Rush, Edward Herrmann, Karen Akers, Michael Tucker, Glenn Headly. In 1930s New Jersey, a movie character walks off the screen and into the real world. Clever fantasy comedy with sharp observations about the importance of escapism in the cinema during the depression era and wry observations about the Hollywood machine. [PG]

3003_frontRebecca (1940; USA; B&W; 130m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Alfred Hitchcock; w. Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan; ph. George Barnes; m. Franz Waxman.  Cast: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Gladys Cooper. A self-conscious bride is tormented by the memory of her husband’s dead first wife. Absorbing and atmospheric mystery drama brilliantly acted and directed with evocative cinematography. Winner of Oscars for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, and received nominations for nine additional Oscars. Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. [PG]

Film Review Round-up – BLACK PATCH (1957); INTERSTELLAR (2014) and GO WEST (1940)

113027-338Black Patch (1957; USA; B&W; 82m) ∗∗∗  d. Allen H. Miner; w. Leo Gordon; ph. Edward Colman; m. Jerry Goldsmith.  Cast: George Montgomery, Diane Brewster, Tom Pittman, Leo Gordon, House Peters Jr., Jorge Treviño, Lynn Cartwright, Peter Brocco, Ted Jacques, Strother Martin, Gilman Rankin, Ned Glass, John O’Malley, Stanley Adams, Sebastian Cabot. A one-eyed marshal finds himself accused of a killing due to his past relationship with the dead man’s wife, prompting a young gunslinger to set out to avenge his death.  Unusual western is a heavy-handed and only partially successful attempt to capitalise on psychological elements popular at the time in the genre. The first film scored by Jerry Goldsmith. [PG]

images (1)Interstellar (2014; USA/UK; Colour; 169m) ∗∗∗½  d. Christopher Nolan; w. Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan; ph. Hoyte van Hoytema; m. Hans Zimmer.  Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, David Gyasi, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Wes Bentley, Mackenzie Foy, Timothée Chalamet, Topher Grace, David Oyelowo, Ellen Burstyn. A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity. Big concept sci-fi knows how to play a crowd, gets by on strong lead performances and holds attention despite its script failing to fully realise the potential of the ideas explored. Won Oscar for Best Visual Effects (Paul J. Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Scott R. Fisher). Based on a story by Kip Thorne. [12]

download (5)Go West (1940; USA; B&W; 80m) ∗∗∗½  d. Edward Buzzell; w. Irving Brecher; ph. Leonard Smith; m. George Bassman, George Stoll; ed. Blanche Sewell.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, John Carroll, Diana Lewis, Walter Woolf King, Robert Barrat, Tully Marshall, June MacCloy, George Lessey. The Marx Brothers come to the rescue in the Wild West when a young man, trying to settle an old family feud so he can marry the girl he loves, runs afoul of crooks. One of the later Marx comedies, has a bland story but some splendid gags – notably the train chase climax. [U]

Film Review Round-up – VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (2008); OBLIVION (2013) and THE PLUNDERERS (1960)

51xPGEYMi7L._SY300_Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008; Spain/USA; DeLuxe; 96m) ∗∗∗  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Javier Aguirresarobe; ed. Alisa Lepselter.  Cast: Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Christopher Evan Welch, Chris Messina, Kevin Dunn, Julio Perillan, Zak Orth, Pablo Schreiber, Josep Maria Domenech, Abel Folk, Carrie Preston, Manel Barcelo. Two girlfriends on a summer holiday in Spain become enamored with the same painter, unaware that his ex-wife, with whom he has a tempestuous relationship, is about to re-enter the picture. Allen explores various themes around infidelity in this well-acted, but somehow unfulfilling story. Cruz is a knockout in an Oscar winning performance as Bardem’s temperamental ex-wife. [12]

mm00205587Oblivion (2013; USA; Colour; 124m) ∗∗∗  d. Joseph Kosinski; w. Karl Gajdusek, Michael DeBruyn; ph. Claudio Miranda; m. Anthony Gonzalez, M.8.3, Joseph Trapanese; ed. Richard Francis-Bruce.  Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Zoe Bell, Melissa Leo, Lindsay Clift, Jaylen Moore, Julie Hardin, Paul Gunawan, Jay Oliver, Jason Stanly. A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself. Engaging sci-fi which is visually impressive. Initially intriguing it settles into more traditional fare, but solid performances help to overcome some of the conventions in the script. Originated as an 8-page treatment written by Kosinski which was pitched as a graphic novel. [12]

the-plunderers-movie-poster-1960-1020254032Plunderers, The (1960; USA; B&W; 94m) ∗∗∗  d. Joseph Pevney; w. Bob Barbash; ph. Gene Polito; m. Leonard Rosenman; ed. Tom McAdoo.  Cast: Jeff Chandler, John Saxon, Dolores Hart, Marsha Hunt, Jay C. Flippen, Ray Stricklyn, James Westerfield, Dee Pollock, Roger Torrey, Vaughn Taylor, Harvey Stephens. When four rowdy cowhands ride into a small town and make trouble, no one seems willing or able to take them on, not even the toughest man in town. But then there is a murder. Interesting psychological Western is well-directed and acted raising it above the routine. Chandler’s final Western. [PG]

Book Review – DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (1968) by Philip K. Dick

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by PHILIP K. DICK (1968, Gollancz/Orion Books Ltd., Paperback, 214pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Through the mean streets of a grim 21st century megalopolis, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, searching out the renegade andys who were his prey. But this assignment involved Nexus-6 targets and as a result Deckard quickly found himself involved in a nightmare kaleidoscope of violence and subterfuge – and the threat of death for the hunter rather than the hunted…

51JumXKRdEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I saw BLADE RUNNER on its first release, when it sank without a trace and I was one of those who was enthralled by the nightmare world it presented and championed the movie. The film has been re-edited and re-appraised since and is now regarded as an SF masterpiece. The book it is based on is a 1968 pulp novel by Philip K. Dick curiously entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Many of the elements of the book found their way into Ridley Scott’s film, but just as many were jettisoned. Dick’s novel is a mix of themes of spirituality and technophobia. Scott’s movie focused on the latter, ignoring the references to Mercerism (a kind og mystic religion) and keeping animals as pets to replace the fact no-one can have children. As a result the mix adopted in Dick’s novel gives the book a different feel to the movie. Here Deckard is in an unhappy marriage where mood machines are used to control people’s emotions. Deckard is a loner and a bounty hunter who starts to question his actions, as he seeks and “retires” six escaped Nexus-6 androids. He even has a dalliance with a female android, Rachael Rosen, whose creator is responsible for the Nexus-6 programme.

The emphasis of the book is on the contradictions of a post-nuclear life and the compromises made. It taps into an age of paranoia and is a thoughtful book that is thankfully not steeped in the cod-literacy that often dogs the genre. It is a quick read and recommended to anyone who wishes to explore Dick’s vision further.

Film Review – THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955)

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955, Exclusive/Hammer Film Productions, UK, 82 mins, B&W, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi Horror Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Brian Donlevy (Prof. Bernard Quatermass), Jack Warner (Insp. Lomax), Margia Dean (Mrs. Judith Carroon), Thora Hird (Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Elizabeth Wrigley), Gordon Jackson (BBC TV producer), David King-Wood (Dr. Gordon Briscoe), Harold Lang (Christie), Lionel Jeffries (Blake), Sam Kydd (Police Sergeant), Richard Wordsworth (Victor Carroon).
      Producer: Anthony Hinds; Director: Val Guest; Writer: Richard H. Landau, Val Guest (Based on the television play by Nigel Kneale); Director of Photography: Walter J. Harvey; Music: James Bernard; Film Editor: James Needs; Art Director: J. Elder Wills; Special Effects: Les Bowie.

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)_0The film that launched Hammer Films’ foray into the horror genre. At the dawn of the space age the British Rocket Group launches three astronauts on an experimental mission. Their ship loses contact with Earth and subsequently crash-lands in the English countryside. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Donlevy) is intrigued to discover that two of the crew are no longer aboard. It soon becomes clear that the mission’s sole survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth), is desperately ill and is rapidly being consumed by the alien organism that killed his fellow astronauts.

The body horror theme of a parasite infecting humans was to become a staple device in much of the later sci-fi genre surfacing with films such as ALIEN, THE THING and numerous stories from TV’s Doctor Who utilising the theme very effectively. Here it is realised through a brilliant portrayal of a man possessed by Richard Wordsworth. His internal turmoil is effectively conveyed by the actor in a manner that recalls Karloff’s monster in FRANKENSTEIN. Val Guest keeps the tension high and the story lean, whilst James Bernard delivers a haunting score.

There has been much written about Brian Donlevy’s suitability for the role of Quatermass and there are times when his histrionics are a little over-bearing as he attempts to capture the professor’s driven personality. Margia Dean is equally unconvincing as Wordsworth’s wife. But Warner adds some fun to his portrayal of the everyman detective inspector, which brings a welcome lighter element to the story. There are also small roles for such favourites as Thora Hird, in a memorable cameo as a homeless lady who encounters the creature, and Gordon Jackson as a BBC producer keen to ensure the show goes on in the Westminster Abbey conclusion.

Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stories would prove very popular on both small and big screen and a sequel, QUATERMASS 2 (again with Donlevy), followed in 1957. However, it was 1967’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (this time with Andrew Keir as Quatermass) that would become the most successful adaptation and impressive production.

Film Review – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014, Chernin Entertainment/ TSG Entertainment, USA, 131 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Atmos/SDDS/Datasat, Cert: 12, Sci-Fi Action Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Gary Oldman (Dreyfus), Keri Russell (Ellie), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Kirk Acevedo (Carver), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Judy Greer (Cornelia), Jon Eyez (Foster), Enrique Murciano (Kemp), Larramie Doc Shaw (Ash), Lee Ross (Grey).
      Producer: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; Director: Matt Reeves; Writer: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver  (Based on Characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; Premise suggested by the novel “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle); Director of Photography: Michael Seresin; Music: Michael Giacchino; Film Editor: William Hoy, Stan Salfas; Production Designer: James Chinlund; Art Director: Naaman Marshall; Set Decorator: Amanda Moss Serino; Costume Designer: Melissa Bruning.

10978699-1414085339-78304The sequel to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a rousing continuation of the franchise. Ten years after a pandemic disease seen in that film, the apes who have survived are drawn into battle with a group of human survivors who seek to restore power to the city of San Francisco.

The technical achievements of this film are huge, from the brilliantly conceived apes with CGI mapped over the physical performance of real human actors, to the excellent design work. Andy Serkis is again excellent at conveying Caesar’s internal conflict and a nod should also go to Toby Kebell who as Koba, the rebellious ape carried forward from the first movie where he was played by Christopher Gordon.

The human actors are headed up by Gary Oldman, as the leader of the survivors and Jason Clarke as Malcolm, who acts as the bridge between the ape and human colonies. The drama unfolds around the conflict Caesar feels with doing what’s right for his ape colony and keeping relations with the humans harmonious. Eventually Koba rebels and, believing he has killed Caesar, leads the apes in an attack on the human colony in a spectacular action sequence which sees the apes take control. However, Caesar has survived and Malcolm helps him restore contact with his son and together they try to put a stop to Koba’s rule.

There are nods to the films roots, notably in the character names Blue Eyes (the nickname given to Charlton Heston in the original) and Maurice (the first name of the actor Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius in the same 1968 film). The plot resembles that from the fifth film in the original series BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, but at least this time they have the budget.

Whilst there are moments of pure Hollywood in some of the plotting, by sheer achievement of its ambition in providing intelligent escapist entertainment this is a refreshingly successful addition to the effects driven blockbusters crowding cinemas. Credit goes to director Matt Reeves for giving the story room to breathe rather than just create a succession of action scenes. A third film is in development and should be well worth the wait.

Film Review – GODZILLA (2014)

GODZILLA (2014, Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures, USA/Japan, 123 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Atmos/SDDS/Datasat, Cert: 12, Sci-Fi Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Carson Bolde (Sam Brody), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Richard T. Jones (Captain Russell Hampton), Victor Rasuk (Sergeant Tre Morales), Patrick Sabongui (Lieutenant Commander Marcus Waltz), CJ Adams (Young Ford).
      Producer: Bob Ducsay, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull; Director: Gareth Edwards; Writer: Max Borenstein (Based on a story by Dave Callaham); Director of Photography: Seamus McGarvey; Music: Alexandre Desplat; Film Editor: Bob Ducsay; Production Designer: Owen Paterson; Art Director: Grant Van Der Slagt; Set Decorator: Elizabeth Wilcox; Costume Designer: Sharen Davis.

Godzilla_2014_Blu-ray_DVD_Digital_Download_Ultra_VioletUnlike Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version this is a straight remake of the 1954 Japanese monster movie classic. Here, the world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.

The set-up is well paced and promises a much more serious take on the subject. Cranston makes an effective misunderstood professor carrying an earnestness in his performance reminiscent of Harrison Ford. It’s a shame he disappears from the action too early as his character is presented as the focal point of the plot early on. Instead it is Taylor-Johnson, as his soldier son trying to re-unite with his family, who takes centre stage and the film veers into more typical destruction and mayhem. Godzilla is kept off screen for much of the film but some action in Hawaii and then the extended finale in San Francisco, where the creature battles the parasites, provide a showcase for the visual effects team.

Action fans will lap up the second half of the movie, whilst those looking for more intelligent film-making will feel slightly disappointed the production team wastes its promising opening by giving over the second half of the movie to technicians.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO Series 8 (2014)

DOCTOR WHO: SERIES 8 (2014, BBC, UK, 1 x 77 mins, 1 x 60 mins and 10 x 45 mins, Colour, 1.78:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi/Adventure) ∗∗∗∗
Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald).
Executive Producer: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Peter Bennett; Music: Murray Gold.

Doctor_Who_Series_8_boxsetPeter Capaldi is the most alien Doctor since the series returned to our screens in 2005. He produces a well-judged performance keeping the balance between eccentric humour and gravitas, something that could not be said of many of Matt Smith’s later stories where the humour began to take over. Capaldi’s age also helps give the Doctor a more authoritative presence.

Jenna Coleman embraces the new dynamic and rises to the occasion to produce her best performances of her tenure. The addition of Samuel Anderson as her love interest, teacher and former soldier Danny Pink, ensures she remains a central focus throughout the series.

The plot umbrella involving the mysterious Missy (played with almost pantomime like relish by Michelle Gomez) led to a two-part finale that attempted to cram in too many emotional thumps. In general, however, the stories are of the most consistently high quality since Matt Smith’s debut season with the most successful of them going back to the basics of what makes this show the most enjoyable thing on television.

1  DEEP BREATH (77m) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Dan Starkey (Strax), Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint), Peter Ferdinando (Half-Face Man), Paul Hickey (Inspector Gregson), Tony Way (Alf), Maggie Service (Elsie), Mark Kempner (Cabbie), Brian Miller (Barney), Graham Duff (Waiter), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Peter Hannah (Policeman), Paul Kasey (Footman), Michelle Gomez (Missy [The Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere]), Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor).
      Director: Ben Wheatley; Writer: Steven Moffat.

When the Doctor arrives in Victorian London, he finds a dinosaur rampant in the Thames and a spate of deadly spontaneous combustions. Who is the new Doctor and will Clara’s friendship survive as they embark on a terrifying mission into the heart of an alien conspiracy? The Doctor has changed. It’s time you knew him. A lively, if familiar, adventure with large doses of Moffat’s trademark humorous dialogue and manic energy interspersed with occasional moments of atmosphere and tension.

2  INTO THE DALEK (45m) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Zawe Ashton (Journey Blue), Michael Smiley (Colonel Morgan Blue), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Laura Dos Santos (Gretchen Allison Carlysle), Ben Crompton (Ross), Bradley Ford (Fleming), Michelle Morris (School Secretary), Nigel Betts (Mr Armitage), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek [Rusty]), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of Battered Dalek), Michelle Gomez (Missy [The Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere]).
      Director: Ben Wheatley; Writer: Phil Ford & Steven Moffat.

A Dalek fleet surrounds a lone rebel ship, and only the Doctor can help them now… with the Doctor facing his greatest enemy, he needs Clara by his side. Confronted with a decision that could change the Daleks forever he is forced to examine his conscience. Will he find the answer to the question, am I a good man?  An interesting mix of elements from the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage and Series 1’s Dalek episode. This gives Capaldi more room to establish himself as possibly the best Doctor of the new run and certainly the most alien.

3  ROBOT OF SHERWOOD (47m) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Tom Riley (Robin Hood [Robert, Earl of Loxley]), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Quayle), Sabrina Bartlett (Quayle’s Ward [Marian]), Ben Miller (The Sheriff of Nottingham), Ian Hallard (Alan-a-Dale), Trevor Cooper (Friar Tuck), Rusty Goffe (Little John), Joseph Kennedy (Will Scarlett), Adam Jones (Walter), David Benson (Herald), David Langham (Guard), Tim Baggaley (Knight), Richard Elfyn (Voice of the Knights).
      Director: Paul Murphy; Writer: Mark Gatiss.

In a sun-dappled Sherwood Forest, the Doctor discovers an evil plan from beyond the stars and strikes up an unlikely alliance with Robin Hood. With all of Nottingham at stake, the Doctor must decide who is real and who is fake. Can impossible heroes really exist? One of two lighter episodes (The Caretaker being the other) that harks back to the Matt Smith era. Capaldi handles the comedy well, but the whole thing feels a little too lightweight.

4  LISTEN (48m) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink / Orson Pink), Remi Gooding (Rupert Pink), Robert Goodman (Reg), Kiran Shah (Figure), John Hurt (The War Doctor).
      Director: Douglas Mackinnon; Writer: Steven Moffat.

When ghosts of past and future crowd into their lives, the Doctor and Clara are thrown into an adventure that takes them to the very end of the universe. What happens when the Doctor is alone? And what scares the grand old man of Time and Space? Listen! The first classic of the Capaldi era is a chilling evocation of bedtime nightmares and proves Moffat still has it in him to produce the scares in a lower budget episode, even if he is once again mining the child psyche to produce them.

5  TIME HEIST (46m) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Keeley Hawes (Ms Delphox), Jonathan Bailey (Psi), Pippa Bennett-Warner (Saibra), Mark Ebulue (Guard), Trevor Sellers (Mr Porrima), Junior Laniyan (Suited Customer), Ross Mullan (The Teller).
      Director: Douglas Mackinnon; Writer: Steve Thompson & Steven Moffat.

The Doctor turns bank robber when he is given a task he cannot refuse – to steal from the most dangerous bank in the cosmos. With the help of a beautiful shape-shifter and cyber-augmented gamer, the Doctor and Clara must fight their way past deadly security and come face to face with the fearsome Teller: a creature of terrifying power that can detect guilt. Who’s version for a heist movie is well-played by a game cast, with The Teller a memorable monster creation. Whilst the story doesn’t really go anywhere it has its share of entertaining moments.

6  THE CARETAKER (46m) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Edward Harrison (Adrian), Nigel Betts (Mr Armitage), Andy Gillies (CSO Matthew), Nanya Campbell (Noah), Joshua Warner-Campbell (Yashe), Oliver Barry-Brook(Kelvin), Ramone Morgan(Tobias), Winston Ellis (Mr Woods), Gracy Goldman (Mrs Woods), Diana Katis (Mrs Christopholou), Jimmy Vee (Skovox Blitzer), Chris Addison (Seb), Michelle Gomez (Missy [The Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere]).
      Director: Paul Murphy; Writer: Gareth Roberts.

The terrifying Skovox Blitzer is ready to destroy all humanity – but worse, and any second now, Danny Pink and the Doctor are going to meet. When terrifying events threaten Coal Hill School, the Doctor decides to go undercover. The better of the two comedic stories in the series. Capaldi really enjoys his undercover role and there is much fun to be had with Vee’s monster.

7  KILL THE MOON (47m) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny), Ellis George (Courtney), Hermione Norris (Lundvik), Tony Osoba (Duke), Phil Nice (Henry), Christopher Dane (McKean).
      Director: Paul Wilmhurst; Writer: Peter Harness.

In the near future, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on a space shuttle making a suicide mission to the Moon. Crash-landing on the lunar surface, they find a mining base full of corpses, vicious spider-like creatures poised to attack, and a terrible dilemma. When Clara turns to the Doctor for help, she gets the shock of her life. Beautifully filmed episode that wracks up the tension through its claustrophobic setting. The spider creatures are truly terrifying, but the pay-off solution stretches credulity. However the coda between Capaldi and Coleman packs an emotional wallop.

8  MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (47m) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Frank Skinner (Perkins), David Bamber (Captain Quell), John Sessions (Gus), Daisy Beaumont (Maisie Pitt), Janet Henfrey (Mrs Pitt), Christopher Villiers (Professor Emil Moorhouse), Foxes (Singer), Jamie Hill (Foretold).
      Director: Paul Wilmhurst; Writer: Jamie Mathieson.

The Doctor and Clara are on the most beautiful train in history, speeding among the stars of the future – but they are unaware that a deadly creature is stalking the passengers. Once you see the horrifying Mummy you only have 66 seconds to live. No exceptions, no reprieve. As the Doctor races against the clock Clara sees him at his deadliest and most ruthless. Will he work out how to defeat the Mummy? Start the clock! Another race against the clock scenario (previously done in 42) but made with such style, grace and wit you can forgive its contrivances. The mummy creature is a brilliantly realised effect.

9  FLATLINE (44m) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny), John Cummins (Roscoe), Jessica Hayles (PC Forrest), Joivan Wade (Rigsy), Christopher Fairbank (Fenton), Matt Bardock (Al), Raj Bajaj (George), James Quinn (Bill), Michelle Gomez (Missy).
      Director: Douglas Mackinnon; Writer: Jamie Mathieson.

Separated from the Doctor, Clara discovers a new menace from another dimension. But how do you hide when even the walls are no protection? With people to save and the Doctor trapped, Clara comes up against an enemy that exists beyond human perception. Brilliantly conceived and executed with some chilling moments and some fun with the Doctor trapped in a shrunken TARDIS. Again an example of the series working best when the budgets are limited.

10  IN THE FOREST OF THE NIGHT (46m) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny), Abigail Eames (Maebh), Jaydon Harris-Wallace (Samson Jaydon Harris-Wallace), Ashley Foster (Bradley), Harley Bird (Ruby), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Siwan Morris (Maebh’s Mum), Harry Dickman (George), James Weber Brown (Minister), Michelle Asante (Neighbour), Curtis Flowers (Emergency Service Officer), Jenny Hill (Herself), Kate Tydman (Paris Reporter), Nana Amoo-Gottfried (Accra Reporter), William Wright-Neblett (Little Boy), Eloise Barnes (Annabel).
      Director: Sheree Folkson; Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce.

One morning, in every city and town in the world, the human race wakes up to face the most surprising invasion yet. Everywhere, in every land, a forest has grown overnight and taken back the Earth. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to discover that the final days of humanity have arrived. A story where its ambitions outweigh its resources. There are some good moments here too, despite the over-reaching concept and Capaldi has settled nicely into his stride.

11/12  DARK WATER / DEATH IN HEAVEN (104m) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Colonel Ahmed),  Chris Addison (Seb), Andrew Leung (Doctor Chang), Bradley Ford (Fleming), Antonio Bourouphael (Boy), Joan Blackham (Woman), Sheila Reid (Gran), Jeremiah Krage (Cyberman), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen), Nigel Betts (Mr Armitage), Shane Keogh-Grenade (Teenage Boy), Katie Bignell (Teenage Girl), James Pearse (Graham), Nick Frost (Santa Claus).
      Director: Rachel Talalay; Writer: Steven Moffat.

In the mysterious world of the Nethersphere, plans have been drawn up. Missy is about to come face to face with the Doctor, and an impossible choice is looming. “Death is not an end” promises the sinister organisation known only as 3W – but, as the Doctor and Clara discover, you might wish it was. The set up in Dark Water is intriguing and echoes Revelation of the Daleks’ black humour. The cliffhanger reveal is not a surprise, however, and the final episode is overblown, contrived and confusing. There are too many convenient plot resolutions for comfort here, but the final scene between Capaldi and Coleman is perfectly judged.

TV Review: DOCTOR WHO: Deep Breath (2014)

DOCTOR WHO: DEEP BREATH (2014, BBC, UK, 76 mins, Colour, 1.78:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi/Adventure) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint), Dan Starkey (Strax), Peter Ferdinando (Half-Face Man), Paul Hickey (Inspector Gregson), Tony Way (Alf), Maggie Service (Elsie), Brian Miller (Barney), Ellis George (Courtney).
      Executive Producer: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin; Producer: Nikki Wilson; Director: Ben Wheatley; Writer: Steven Moffat; Script Editor: Derek Ritchie; Director of Photography: Magni Agustsson; Music: Murray Gold; Film Editor: William Oswald; Production Designer: Michael Pickwoad; Costume Designer: Howard Burden; Special Effects: MILK, BBC Wales Visual Effects, Real SFX, Millennium FX.

DW8_Landscape_Aug24_sPeter Capaldi’s debut as the ever-popular Time Lord has been hotly anticipated since it was announced he would be taking over the role a year ago. Casting an older actor (Capaldi is 56) after the extremely popular Matt Smith, who was half Capaldi’s age was a bold move by Moffat, who has signalled a desire to introduce more gravity into the part and into the plots.

Deep Breath only hints at these changes, being a lively adventure with large doses of Moffat’s trademark humorous dialogue and manic energy interspersed with occasional moments of atmosphere and tension. There are nods to the classic series in a dinosaur roaming London (Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and residents of Victorian London being exploited for their flesh (The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Moffat also looks to his own earlier work – the clockwork men are taken from The Girl in the Fireplace and the Doctor’s instruction “don’t breathe” top avoid detection by the clockwork men is reminiscent of “don’t blink” from Blink.

The Vastra-Jenny-Strax trio is starting to wear a bit thin, however, recycling much of the banter from earlier appearances. It may have been felt that there was a need to surround the new Doctor with familiar elements in order to gain acceptance. This is nothing new – even Tom Baker had to go through a debut story obviously styled around his predecessor before very quickly finding his own feet one story later. It is to be hoped Moffat has remained true to his word in creating a more challenging and thoughtful Doctor. There is certainly a hint here that once Capaldi settles into the role we will have a strong Doctor and a more serious tone. The series needs to restore a sense of tension and jeopardy, so it was refreshing to see the seemingly infinitely adaptable sonic screwdriver used less frequently.

A good, but not great, start to a new era. Next week it’s Into the Dalek.

Film Review – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)

UNDER THE SKIN (2013, Film 4 / British Film Institute, UK/USA/Switzerland, 108 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Sci-Fi Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hádek, Roy Armstrong.
      Producer: Nick Wechsler, James Wilson; Director: Jonathan Glazer; Writer: Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell (Based on the novel by Michel Faber); Director of Photography: Daniel Landin; Music: Mica Levi; Film Editor: Paul Watts; Production Designer: Chris Oddy; Art Director: Martin McNee, Emer O’Sullivan; Costume Designer: Steven Noble.

UnderTheSkinAn alien in the form of a voluptuous woman (Johansson) combs the highways of Scotland in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. There she seduces, strips and stores them in a dimensional trap. Then she takes pity on a deformed man, who she releases incurring the wrath of her male accomplice. She goes on the run and meets a drifter. Seemingly beginning to become aware of a soul within her human facade she becomes attracted to him. When she realises her alien biology precludes them from mating she escapes to a forest where further danger awaits.

To brand this film as unconventional would be an understatement. It is encouraging to see such challenging film-making in an era dominated by brainless blockbusters. The dense narrative, sparse dialogue and eerie soundtrack all serve to create an unsettling atmosphere. This is most notable in a scene on a beach where a toddler is left alone against the oncoming tide as his mother and father meet their fate whilst trying to rescue their dog, which has swum out to sea.

Johansson delivers an emotionally detached performance and yet still manages to create a seductive allure through her physicality. None of the human characters are given names but all the actors give credible and naturalistic performances. Watching the film makes the viewer feel voyeuristic rather than emotionally involved and as such its cold heart will alienate many. Despite the slow unfolding story I remained hooked until the rather disappointing conclusion, which left many of the interesting subtexts raised hanging in the air as if the filmmakers were merely asking the questions rather than sharing a viewpoint.

The end result, therefore, is an impressively technical film, but one without a soul.