Firstly, the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II was simply put one of the most incredible acts of survival and escape achieved. From the historical articles and documentaries I have read and seen the Allies were on the ropes and pinned back by the German army causing 400,000 beaten, starving and bedraggled human beings to be trapped on the beach waiting desperately for rescue. It’s no spoiler to state that many brave people enabled that rescue creating that well-known phrase “Dunkirk spirit” to enter our vocabulary.
Put yourself in that position for even just a minute and the fear drains one cold and feeling so lucky that I will never have to feel that threatened. These are people, young soldiers fighting against a fascistic foe who are backed into a corner and whose lives are about to be extinguished. So, think about that when you wake up in the morning because Christopher Nolan’s epic film, as do many other films, books and television shows about the war, give your life meaning about how lucky we are to not have to live through that. Count your blessings you’re not in a war and the life we live has relative freedom.
These and many more emotions flashed through my being while experiencing the incredible epic that master director Nolan and team have delivered via Dunkirk. Throwing us immediately into the action we are shown the hell of war from three perspectives: land, sea and air. Nolan works from a simpler focus and premise compared to his other works and this makes it all the more powerful an experience. Where films such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Memento (2000) had complex, shifting narratives relying on heavy exposition, grand concepts and plot twists, Dunkirk deals with one simple sterling idea: survival!
I found the whole experience immersive and pulsating from a cinematic perspective. Christopher Nolan, and his production team, have in the: editing, cinematography, composition, colour, acting, framing, sound, score and movement created pure and poetic cinema. From the safety of my comfy seat I felt real danger, peril and claustrophobia. The narratives’ drive comes from fragmented moments of fear and blasts of explosive danger. The impressionistic style was full of scenes containing quiet doom as well as noisy, confusing and fiery terror. Even the smallest situation such as the locking of a cabin door takes on great significance, sending a chill down the spine. As the enemy closes in from above and below and water fills the screen and lungs of our heroes, then death moves in for the kill.
Nolan eschews the solid build-up of traditional characterisation to create emotion through the visual form with a chopping style which serves to heighten the panic. There are so many haunting images as men and boys are stuck behind doors and ships and in boats and underwater and in the air and on moles and piers, compressed, suffocating and unable to breath as bullets, torpedoes and bombs pepper their souls. The coruscating soundscape, montage and hypnotic score from Hans Zimmer only add to the dread within the non-stop action. The dialogue is spare and at times muffled as character development is also sacrificed due to the compressed timeline. Yet, for me, empathy was garnered through verisimilitude, form and style rather than a conventional storytelling and a simplistic three-act transformational arc.
The characters are archetypes but serve the story very well. Kenneth Branagh’s noble sea Commander brings gravitas while Mark Rylance brings a naturalistic humility to the stalwart and duty bound Mr Dawson. Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier allows his haunting eyes to dominate, while the pathos emitting from Barry Keoghan’s young George is incredibly powerful. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, while inexperienced actors, represent the palpable fear any young man would exhibit when faced with certain death. Tom Hardy adds star quality in his role of RAF pilot, Farrier, and the image at the end of his plane burning in the sunset is indelibly etched in my mind.
But, overall the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker but a cinematic artist echoing the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick within this war and disaster film masterpiece. Dunkirk was a savage defeat for the Allies but it rallied the nation against the enemy and Nolan has produced a film that stands as a worthy tribute to those who lost their lives and those brave people who survived.
It’s been a busy July for decent cinema releases and my Odeon Limitless card has been earning its dough somewhat! So I decided to compress the reviews into one manageable article and here they are in order of film preference with the usual marks out of 11!
**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)
The final part in the prequel trilogy to the movie classic Planet of the Apes (1968) is an apocalyptic epic which had me gripped from start to finish. The story continues a few years after Koba’s rebellion caused further catastrophic events between humans and apes. We find Caesar and his guerrilla army attempting to protect their families from Woody Harrelson’s obsessive Kurtz-like figure The Colonel. When The Colonel causes irreparable damage to Caesar’s clan he sets out on an epic journey to free the apes from their fascistic human captors.
Aside from some convenient plotting for pace, director Matt Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback have constructed a superb and compelling story which echoes the epic glory of cinema classics such as: The Searchers (1956), Dr Zhivago (1965), The Great Escape (1963), Spartacus (1960), Apocalypse Now (1979); and even the Biblical story of Moses. Andy Serkis is incredible once again as the noble Caesar and his determined, proud and intelligent character is someone we really root for. Special mention to Steve Zahn too who plays the likeable fool, Bad Ape, adding welcome comic relief to the heavy drama and pulsating action.
The cinematography from Michael Seresin’s lense is exquisite as snowy, beach and woodland landscapes provide a beautiful counterpoint to the chaos of war. Moreover, the action set-pieces are breath-taking with expertly staged composition and crisp editing while the motion-capture effects brilliantly support the story. In between the emotional moments hit home too as Matt Reeves and his team have fashioned a big film with an even bigger heart. Overall, this is one of the best cinematic experiences I have had all year as story, style, technology and emotion all work together to bring a fitting end to one of the best film trilogies committed to celluloid.
(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
Oh no!! Not another Spiderman film!! But don’t panic as this one is presented from within the Marvel Universe! Following quickly after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Tom Holland’s eager arachnid-kid literally bounces off the walls waiting for an assignment from his mentor Tony Stark (Downey Jnr in a cameo-plus-style appearance). However, he’s palmed off with overgrown babysitter Happy (Jon Favreau) and here’s when Peter Parker gets in a pickle by ignoring the adults and going out to play on his own.
With some tremendous set-pieces on the Staten Island Ferry and at the Washington Monument the action really fizzes along and raises the pulse throughout. Having said that the final explosive action set at night was poorly lit in my view rendering the action almost incomprehensible. In between, the high school scenes are very funny, notably Jacob Balaton’s Spidey sidekick, and Peter’s impatient and chaotic teen characterisation was very well drawn. Yet, it is Michael Keaton as the scavenging Vulture who absolutely steals the show. His performance as gritty, working-class and angry antagonist, Adrian Toomes adds shades of dramatic grey to an otherwise shiny and colourful narrative.
While not quite shaking the feeling of creative ennui and Spidey overkill, Homecoming still manages to hit many of the heights reached by Marvel’s sparkling stable of comic-book stars. Newish filmmaker Jon Watt, who directed the brilliant, low-budget film Cop Car (2015), handles it all with some verve and humour while delivering a humdinger of an end of second act dramatic twist. Having seen him recently in Wolf Hall (2015) and The Lost City of Z (2016), Tom Holland confirms himself a bona fide star, and is fantastic as everyone’s favourite neighbourhood spider.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)
This haunting post-viral apocalyptic nightmare of a film drips with dread, suspense and bloody heartache throughout. It concerns Joel Edgerton’s everyman who, along with his wife and son, are attempting to survive in their battered and isolated woodland home. Paranoia is a key fuel for the characters’ lives as they follow strict rules of wearing gloves, washing hands, burning bodies and not leaving the house at night. When their space is invaded by Will (Christopher Abbott), his wife and child, the families all form an uneasy pact; yet it is not too long before peace gives way to disharmony and recrimination.
Trey Edward Schults directs the hell out of this low-budget gem with the skill of a way more experienced filmmaker. He creates an eerie, dark and hallucinatory vision which, while lacking in expositional clarity, more than makes up for in atmospheric visuals and human drama. The film glides along at a creepy pace and builds to what feels should be a cathartic and dramatic peak. However, the ending left me slightly disappointed as it was too poetic. I was okay with the mysterious narrative elements such as not knowing the cause of the virus, but I felt that a more traditional horror conclusion would have made it a much better film. Still, Schults is a director to watch out for but being a horror whore myself I wanted a bit more blood and guts at journey’s end.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
THE BEGUILED (2017)
Colin Farrell portrays a Union Army deserter who hides out in an all-women boarding school featuring an excellent cast including: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Oona Laurence, and Angourie Rice. It’s based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan and previously adapted into a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood. Sofia Coppola’s subtle direction is impressive and this gothic drama has amazing cinematography, costume design and decent performances. However, I felt, by the end, the film was completely lacking in drama, eroticism and suspense.
The build-up over the first hour was fantastic but alas there were no major pay-offs to events relating to repressed sexuality and male-female divide. Moreover, thematically I found Coppola had nothing to say on the Civil War, sexual temptation or the damaging impact of patriarchy in a matriarchal world. She also fails to develop Farrell’s character as Faustian sexual threat and aside from some incredibly beautiful lighting and composition from Phillipe Le Sourd the story just peters out unsatisfactorily in my view.
The 16th July 2017 the news was passed, after the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon, that there would be a new actor playing BBC TV’s long-running sci-fi fantasy character Doctor Who; and that person will be the very talented Jodie Whittaker.
So, as Roger Federer was holding aloft the trophy to worship and cheer, the internet was quickly going into meltdown as Doctor Who fans and geeks cheered this exciting news about the soon-to-regenerate Timelord/Lady! Meanwhile, in the darkness and under the bridges of the world-wide web the naysayers, fiends and trolls began sharpening their claws and keyboards ready to protest most vehemently at this gender shift.
My initial reaction was one of excitement and now the dust has settled slightly I continue to feel a keen sense of anticipation for the next season and the casting of Jodie Whittaker! So, here are thirteen reasons why the next season will, in my opinion, be fine.
CALM THE F**K DOWN – IT’S JUST A TV SHOW!
The level of negative comments on Facebook pages, newspaper comments, online fan forums, YouTube and other geeky websites was absolutely ridiculous. Den of Geek even had to issue a warning because of some of the vitriolic comments. I think humanity has a problem if they’re losing their mind of the casting of a woman into a historically male role. It’s not a matter of life or death or a war or cancer! It’s just a bloody TV show and everything will be fine!
IS IT POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD?
Many online comments have been that this is political correctness gone mad and I find this offensive to be honest. I don’t believe this is motivated by feminism or tokenism or positive discrimination. This is a creative decision based on who the showrunner’s think are best for the role.
DOCTOR WHO IS NOT ABOUT GENDER!
The character is about regeneration. The 13th Doctor’s regeneration is coded as female in gender! It’s not about rewriting history but presenting the character in a whole new context within the narratives, drama and humour.
JODIE WHITTAKER IS A BRILLIANT ACTRESS!
Jodie Whittaker is perhaps best known as Beth Latimer in excellent ITV drama Broadchurch. In it she acts her heart out as a young mother struggling with the loss of her son. She’s also appeared in many stage productions and also has form appearing in sci-fi stories such as Attack the Block (2011) and the Black Mirror episode The Entire History of You (2011. Overall, she is a sterling actress with a great range who will bring a tremendous verve and energy to the role.
JODIE WHITTAKER IS WORTHY!
The character of the Doctor is all about taking on injustices across space and time and this takes a hell of a lot of courage from the character. By taking such an iconic role dominated in history by male actors, Jodie Whittaker proves she has the backbone to stand up to the ridiculous backlash that has occurred and make the role her own.
TIMELORDS ARE SHAPE-SHIFTING ALIENS!
As the show has demonstrated recently with the Master transforming into Missy, Time Lords are confirmed as shape-shifting aliens and therefore it makes sense they can change gender. It’s only reactionary thinking and resistance to change which doesn’t recognise this.
DOCTOR WHO IS TIMELESS!
Doctor Who is an institution that has been going for 53 years. Even when the TV show was on a break it regenerated into other mediums. There are fans worldwide who attend shows and conventions now we have an industry full of Doctor Who comic books, novels, audio books, radio adaptations, paintings, posters and many more social media outlets.
SO MANY FAMOUS FEMALE DOCTORS!
I feel ridiculous for even using this as justification; but there have been so many amazing Doctors who happen to be female. I mean do we live in the dark ages where idiots refuse to be seen by female Doctors. Anyway, click here for a list of just a few famous Doctors:
NEW DRAMATIC PERSPECTIVE
Changing the actor of the Doctor opens up a whole new different set of dramatic possibilities. The casting of Jodie Whittaker will present a marked move away from the Doctor as a middle-aged eccentric male. They broke this mould when casting Matt Smith and he was excellent, so I expect the new Doctor to just as positive in the next season.
BRAIN OVER BRAWN!
Based on many of the morons commenting online it’s the end of the world as we know it with the casting of Jodie Whittaker. But the character of the Doctor has NEVER been about using stereotypical brute force associated with male action heroes. The Doctor uses brain, cunning, experience, humour, smarts and their overall genius to overcome the monsters.
IT WILL CONFUSE THE HELL OUT OF THE ENEMY!
The Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, Sontarans, The Silence, The Silurians, Humans and many, many more have come a cropper due to the Doctor’s ingenious skills. Thus, a female Doctor could potentially screw with their brains initially. Well, all of them except perhaps the Master/Missy; whoever that may be next!!
As well as the wonderful science fiction and horror tropes present in Doctor Who there’s almost always humour in the show. Patrick Troughton and Matt Smith were very good at acting the clown, while Tom Baker was also very good at acting insane when in times of trouble. Peter Capaldi brought a wonderful sarcasm and a litany of zinging one-liners during his tenure, but with the new Doctor the dynamic will change. Thus, I look forward to a different kind of humour with hopefully some satirical gags at the change in gender.
Chris Chibnall has carved himself out an impressive television writing CV, including work on: Law and Order, Torchwood, Doctor Who and Broadchurch and I think he will breathe new life into the show and characters. Chris Chibnall says of the new casting:
“After months of lists, conversations, auditions, recalls, and a lot of secret-keeping, we’re excited to welcome Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. Her audition for The Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role. The Thirteenth Doctor is on her way.”
IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!
In my humble opinion Jodie Whittaker will be brilliant. If she isn’t or the show isn’t very good I won’t complain. I will just stop watching the show based on creative and qualitative reasoning. I won’t use the reason she is a woman as a negative because WE LIVE IN THE 21ST CENTURY!!
And remember – it’s just a TV show! It’s not the end of the world because if it was we will always have the Doctor to save us!
Here’s a re-blog of an article I wrote for the excellent http://www.sothetheorygoes.com website. It’s arguably a better researched article than I usually turn out and the original can be found here.
OVERCOMING THE MONSTER
As an avid cinemagoer and fan I watch a hell of a lot of movies. I am aware that Hollywood film releases rarely contain original screenplays due to the massive flux of literary, journalistic, radio, televisual and comic-book adaptations. Moreover, there are reboots, remakes and re-imaginings of older and, in the case of the recent Spiderman releases, not-so-older films too. I have even noticed another trend where on top of the usual remakes there are a number of films which are unofficial remakes of other films. Does this mean originality is finally dead in Hollywood and is now cannibalizing itself to produce product. Or, has it always been that way?
I want to explore the nature of storytelling, mythmaking and modes of classic Hollywood film production to consider whether there is a trend toward unofficial remakes in the current filmmaking era. I will examine cultural theory and film history to decide whether filmmakers are knowingly copying other works but hiding their intentions; or subconsciously replicating past cinema works while emulating both the historical traditions of storytelling and the classical Hollywood mode of film production. I will look at some recent film releases to further reflect on such theories.
The blockbuster or big budget spectacular has been a major business tool of Hollywood production since movies. In his book Blockbuster, Tom Shone points to the 1970s as the beginning of the blockbuster summer movie era with films such as Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), making huge money and beginning a business convention which continues today. However, there has always been huge behemoth product coming out of Hollywood with the likes of D.W Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone With The Wind (1939), Cleopatra (1963) being examples of big-budget spectacular produced down the years. As such the blockbuster is as much a genre in its own right as opined by Shone and also Peter Biskind in his book: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock ‘N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.
The summer blockbuster film release is clearly a huge money-making enterprise on behalf of Hollywood studios. Indeed, according to a recent Indiewire article films such as The Force Awakens (2015), Avatar (2009), Avengers: Assemble (2012) have together made over $2.5 billion dollars in at the box office. With the Marvel and Star Wars universe or franchises ever increasing their reach across galaxies far, far away it is important to note that the new Hollywood is still following the classical Hollywood system in regard to mode of production.
In their book The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960, Staiger, Thompson and Bordwell, a Hollywood film derives its’ competitiveness from a standardized norm and differentiated delivery. Film genres take place between the dialectic of standardization and differentiation which allows films to be produced along a conveyor built quickly and more profitably while some innovation generates differentiated elements to enable successful marketing of the product. For example, Ford produced and continued to produce a lot of the same model motor vehicles but change the colours and extras to differentiate the product. Likewise, Hollywood produces a hell of a lot of action, superhero and blockbuster films but in using different actors, directors, composers and source materials they are able to blind the audience to the storytelling structures and plots being used.
But is this a mode of production considered lazy, unoriginal, uninspired or even plagiaristic? Possibly, yet it seems to make sense that Hollywood studios, while risking a hell of a lot of money on their blockbusters, standardize their product and use what has worked before to protect their investment. While some of us would like to see David Lynch given $200 million to direct a Marvel Universe movie, his idiosyncratic vision of the world would be such a leap of differentiation it would possibly – like his adaptation of Dune (1984) – create a potential box office bomb. Even a brilliant director like Edgar Wright was considered not “house style” enough for the Marvel film Ant Man (2015) and left the production due to the oft-quoted “creative differences”.
Is it fair to accuse Hollywood studios of unoriginality or even plagiarism? Are writer and filmmakers merely following the rules of the world? I mean according to Christopher Booker’s text The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are in essence only a limited number of narratives including the: ‘Overcoming the Monster’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘The Quest’, ‘Comedy, ‘Rebirth’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Voyage and Return’. Booker echoes too the studies of mythologist Joseph Campbell who argues that the ‘Hero’s Journey’ or monomyth is the common template of most stories. Christopher Vogler followed on from Campbell’s extensive work in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writer arguing that most popular stories can be narrowed down to a series of basic structures and archetypes.
Thus, we could argue that originality is in fact impossible and Hollywood blockbusters, as well as following the classical Hollywood model of standardization and differentiation; are simply passing on the traditional and mythical structures which hark back to the cave drawings of our ancestors, Greek myths and those wonderful stories in the Bible. Let’s have a look at some examples of recent blockbuster films which echo the theories of mythic storytelling, concentrating specifically on those that could be considered unofficial remakes of previous films.
VOYAGE AND RETURN
The biggest box office hit of recent years is the JJ Abrams directed The Force Awakens (2015). After Disney paid an absolute fortune to Lucasfilms for the rights to own the Star Wars franchise it’s safe to say that there was no way the studio would be taking any risks on their product. Thus, in my opinion, JJ Abrams and his writing team took a safety first approach to the storyline by unofficially remaking the original Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). They standardized their product by using most of the same characters, settings, design, costumes, music and themes. Moreover, on the whole it follows the same “Hero’s Journey” and “Overcoming the Monster” models within its structure as at its core a plucky young “orphan” must rise up and defeat the dark side of the Empire. Conversely, the original Star Wars could be argued to have heavily borrowed its structure and archetypes from Akiro Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958). However, George Lucas’ epic space opera was so original in presentation and design one cannot reconcile notions of plagiarism.
A Force Awakens was only marginally differentiated with more diverse casting as the female leading character Rey (Daisy Ridley) took the Luke Skywalker role. The only main difference is her character was arguably more passive in the narrative compared with the dynamic enthusiasm of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker. In remaking A New Hope, complete with a total-replica-ending culminating in the rebels destroying the Death Star, the filmmakers tick all the fan boxes yet with just enough difference in the details so as not to be accused of self-plagiarism. For me, however, A Force Awakens is not as credible a story as Rogue One (2016), which, while invoking World War II “suicide-mission” genre structures such as: The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Guns of Navarone (1966), had more original characters and differentiation and thus felt a fresher product.
Unofficial remakes or the echoing of known texts are rife in the blockbuster era. James Cameron’s environmentalist Sci-Fi fantasy Avatar (2009) has exactly the same “Voyage and Return” structure as Kevin Costner’s revisionist Western Dances with Wolves (1990). In both films our hero, a soldier, finds himself at first a prisoner and then falling in love with an indigenous tribe’s more natural lifestyle; ultimately defying the patriarchal and oppressive capitalist society from where he came. Both culminate in a thrilling battle at the end where our gone-native hero overcomes the monstrous enemy. Avatar, of course, differentiates markedly in presentation to Costner’s epic due to the incredible special effects on show but the structure and storylines are exactly the same.
Screenwriters have not just plundered cinema’s back catalogue for narratives. The original storyline of Marvel comic books The Hulk is an unofficial adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; with a scientist splitting his personality between man and monster following an experiment gone wrong. Marvel indeed are experts at absorbing literary texts into their works as Age of Ultron (2015) echoes the story of Frankenstein as Stark’s experiment wreaks monstrous havoc on the Avengers. Moreover one of the best Marvel films Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) uses the plot of spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) as a springboard.
Of course, these are very loose interpretations, however, with Avengers: Assemble (2012) the filmmakers have, in my mind, essentially remade Kurosawa’s Seven Samourai (1954). Of course Seven Samourai has been remade many times as The Magnificent Seven in both 1960 and 2016, respectively. Indeed, in Avengers Assemble the plot of the villagers-in-peril being protected against a vicious foe by a rag-tag bag of gunslingers is mirrored by the Earth being guarded by the Avengers against Loki and the Chitauri. Even the beats of the story are similar with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) building his team in the way Chris (Yul Brynner) did in the Western version and Kambei (Takashi Shimura) did in the original. Overall, The Avengers is a terrific film, with a very solid narrative founded on the powerful structure of works released before it.
In summary, the unofficial remake is probably not a recent trend as I am sure further investigation will reveal more examples of this occurrence in Hollywood film production. The question remains though: is there evidence of plagiarism within the modern Hollywood blockbuster and cinema examples used? I would say there probably isn’t. Filmmakers today are generally following the age-old tradition of passing on stories and myths, combined with the conscious structural safety of following genre conventions and the standardization and differentiation models Classical Hollywood cinema established decades ago. Either that or they are following Quentin Tarantino’s lead when he says,
“I steal from every single movie ever made. If people don’t like that, then tough tills, don’t go and see it, all right? I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”
SIX OF THE BEST #8 – GAME OF THRONES’ MOST EVIL VILLAINS
I’ve been enjoying the hell out of re-watching all the seasons of Game of Thrones and once again I take a look at six of the best things from HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s amazing literary fantasy epics! Game of Thrones has its fair share of nasty pieces of work so here, in my opinion, are the worst of the lot!
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS – SEASONS 1 – 6**
CERSEI LANNISTER – LENA HEADEY
The quote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” was never more appropriate where Cersei Lannister is concerned. Brilliantly portrayed by Lena Headey her spite and evil is borne out of a sense of injustice; having been overlooked for leadership due to her gender by her father and the sexist nature of the time. This, I think, is forgivable if she wasn’t so bitter and twisted towards the likes of Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Margaery Tyrell (Nathalie Dormer) and didn’t openly revel in their suffering. Her plots aren’t always successful though because having given power to the ‘Faith Militant’ her plan backfired and she had to do the ‘Walk of Shame’. Having said that her revenge on the High Sparrow and his lot for this was, you have to hand it to her, explosive and devilishly realised.
CRASTER – ROBERT PUGH
Craster was Wildling pig of a man who was not only raping his own daughters for pleasure but using the male offspring as White Walker sacrifices in order to maintain his own safety. I understand that in desperate times desperate measures are required but to incestuously rape your own kin and farm them off to the deadly enemy takes the cake. Ultimately, he got his bloody comeuppance at the hands of another violent thug, the double-knifed traitor Karl Tanner (Burn Gorman). Having said that Tanner was just as vicious and having taken Craster’s Keep, he got a sword through the mouth from the heroic Jon Snow (Kit Harrington).
JOFFREY LANNISTER – JACK GLEASON
This snivelling-out-of-incest-born-cowardly-prick was a complete arsehole from the first episode. In true pantomime villain style, you could hear the screams of delight across the TV audience when he was poisoned at his own wedding in Season 4. He bullied all those around him that were weaker including the much maligned Sansa Stark and butchered prostitutes without a care in the world. What made this sister-brother-bastard-offspring even more odious is he was a complete coward too. He bottled it at the Battle of Blackwater and when he had the chance to show mercy for Ned Stark, gave the order for his decapitation. What a c—t!
LORD PETYR BAELISH – AIDEN GILLEN
With the voice of a hypnotic snake ‘Littlefinger’ is a very dangerous man indeed. In fact, he’s arguably the most evil of the lot as his plotting is virtually invisible and yet done in plain sight. A true Machiavellian he manipulates everyone using spies, soldiers, servants and prostitutes to do his watching and listening. His crimes are legion and include: turning on Ned Stark to favour the Lannister’s; helping the Tyrell’s poison Joffrey to turn on the Lannister’s; pushing madwoman Lady Lysa Arryn to her death through the Moon Door to benefit himself; gaining Sansa Stark’s trust before finagling her into marrying the complete bastard Ramsay Bolton; and then turning on the Bolton family by taking the Knights of the Vale to defeat them. In short: he’s a brilliant and fiendish tactician up to the end of Season 6 that is, when he finds further rivals stopping his path to the Iron Throne.
MELISANDRE THE RED WOMAN – CARICE VAN HOUTEN
The Red Woman is a constant threat to all characters throughout the seasons of the show. She uses her committed fervour to the Lord of the Light, and her sexual wares, to suck the life out of the people around her and bring bloody death to others. Essentially a human embodiment of the Succubus creature she gets her claws into Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and convinces him the fire has named him the one and true King. Only after Stannis’ daughter is burnt at the stake as a sacrifice and Stannis is killed in the Battle for Winterfell does she admit she may have got it wrong?!? Having previously killed Renley Baratheon with black magic; leech-raped Gendry (Joe Dempsie) for his blood; done for Stannis; she then turns her attention to Jon Snow. Indeed, even though she had brought him back to life he banishes her for the witch and jinx that she is.
RAMSAY BOLTON – IWAN RHEON
Beginning in some ways like a Northern Joffrey, the bastard Ramsay Snow was introduced as a possible ally to Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), only to sneakily turn the tables and in fact reveal himself to be Theon’s captor. Unlike Joffrey he is cunning, as he proved getting information out of Theon, and actually a fierce fighter and killer. While he genuinely backs up his psychopathy with violent acts his means of killing people is gruesome to say the least. The Bolton’s do not take prisoners and instead skin their foes alive. While Ramsay delights in not only feeding his enemies to the dogs and sexually humiliating poor Sansa, he also cut Theon’s cock off in one of the most sickening acts of violence. In a TV show that is always imaginatively near-the-knuckle when it comes to torture this was utterly sickening. Sansa’s revenge on Ramsay has to be one of the most satisfying moments in the show’s history.
One of the legends of cinema passed away a couple of days ago in George A. Romero. Here was a filmmaker who will always remain an inspiration to me as a movie fan and independent filmmaker.
He is most famous for single-handedly inventing the modern day zombie film, however, that, in my opinion is to simplify his legacy. What he achieved on low budgets with films such as: Night of Living Dead (1968), The Crazies (1973), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Martin (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) and more, was nothing short of incredible.
His films indelibly etched images, sounds, music, sequences and of course bloody gore into my mind; some of which I will never forget to this day. Most importantly, though his horror films were of the fantastic variety, they were filled with incredible insight into the socio-political machinations of the day.
Because, George A. Romero knew that the horror on the screen could never match the horrors of war, oppression and death that humanity bestowed upon itself down the years and in the now. For being an independent, intelligent and political filmmaker is how Romero should be remembered.
I love Doctor Who and have written many times about it on this blog with reviews and articles. I think what I love about it most is that within the genre structure of a Time Lord and companions doing battle against foes is the fact that you can end up anywhere in time and space; in scientific reality and magical fantasy. Each episode contains surprise and mystery and imaginative ideas which draw you in again and again. So, here I go with a review of the at times completely genius, occasionally so-so, but mainly brilliant entertainment that is Season 10. If you also wish to read last season’s review please do so here.
SPOILERS AHEAD, DARLING
Couple of minor gripes before I start! Please stop with the preview spoilers BBC! There were too many dramatic surprises within the series given away across the TV screens and T’internet. Firstly Capaldi’s departure from the show AND John Simm would be coming back as The Master. Oh, and the origins of the Mondasian Cybermen was revealed too giving away another surprise from the exceptional double-headed finale. Lastly, now Chris Chibnall is to take over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, I hope he’ll dispense with the incessant characters dying and coming back to life trope. This has now literally been done to death. However, putting these minor grumbles aside I was very entertained by the season overall.
WHAT’S IN THE VAULT?
When the commanding character actor, musician, director and writer Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor Who a few years ago, I was very excited. Here was an experienced actor full of gravitas, energy, wit, light and dark humour, who would no doubt bring his own vision to the role of the ancient Gallefreyan. And I was not disappointed at all! I really loved Capaldi’s Doctor because he was very rounded and in his face you could see the years of time-travelling experience. And wow – can he deliver a grandstanding monologue too!
In Season 10, he was meant to be anchored to Earth guarding the Vault, having taken an oath to ensure Missy/The Master does not escape. Instead he attempted to redeem Missy – portrayed with devilish brio – by Michelle Gomez. Did he succeed? Well, it’s open to interpretation. Nonetheless, this story arc was way more convincing and emotional than Season 9’s confusing “Hybrid” arc. In fact, I’d say Steven Moffatt nailed the dramatic arc and emotion on this one.
THE NEW FACES
The Doctor, as well as looking after the Vault, found two new companions in tow. They were Bill Potts, played with a wide-eyed and naïve charm by Pearl Mackie. We also had a former rogue-but-now-kinda-sweet cyborg called Nardole, portrayed by the brilliant comedic actor Matt Lucas. In a terrific meta-gag from Steven Moffat, during World Enough and Time, Missy called them “Exposition” and “Comic Relief”; however, I think they were a bit more than that.
As usual the audience were reflected in Bill’s character as her initial wide-eyed and open-mouthed awe at the Doctor and the Tardis’ capabilities gave way to an awe and wonderment at the space adventures that ensued. Bill proved herself a valuable sidekick to the Doctor. She had a kind soul and there were some emotional pull to her due her being an orphan, plus being gay created an extra dynamic in the storylines as well as some humour too.
Nardole, on the other hand, was mainly played for laughs as he had some fantastic banter with the Doctor. Lucas did not go over-the-top wacky though and gave Nardole a world-weary trudge and set of grumpy looks and fine one-liners. At the same time he remained very loyal to the Doctor and really came into his own in the latter episodes when his hacking skills were used to combat the Cybermen.
Thematically this season of Doctor Who was very strong. Of course the Doctor remained stalwart in his world view of protecting the oppressed against evil. But he also had a redemptive plan where Nardole and Missy were concerned. Reading between the lines it appeared Nardole had a shady past so the Doctor employs him to do right by his oath to guard Missy in the Vault. Missy however, was a more difficult proposition and during Extremis it is revealed the Doctor saves her from death, with a view to redeeming her soul. This theme plays out really well within the individual episodes, especially in the wonderful denouement of The Doctor Falls where Missy and her older self, The Master (fiendishly portrayed by John Simm) join forces against the Doctor; only for Missy to kind of atone and attempt to join the Doctor in the fight against the Cybermen.
Love was another powerful emotion and theme to pervade the season. The Doctor’s love for, or at least yearning for the childhood friendship he had with Missy/Master shone through during those final episodes. Bill’s love for her deceased Mother was palpable too, playing a big part in defeating the Monks in The Lie of the Land. Also, it was Bill’s love for Heather during the The Pilot episode which eventually saved her and the Doctor from certain death during The Doctor Falls. It was a big leap of faith in the storyline to believe this substantive narrative call-back, but I think it really worked and I was pleased Bill survived. What becomes of the Doctor we shall see?
The episodes generally were very strong and Doctor Who also gave some terrific social commentary in between the monsters, robots and general temporal trickery. Thin Ice critiqued racism, while Oxygen did the same with corporate greed. Rogue landlords and the student life were satirized in Knock Knock and most powerfully religious, medical and military control were examined and disparaged during the trilogy episodes: Extremis, Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land. Visually the show was also very striking with agricultural, urban and futuristic locales merging with some wonderful beasts, humanoids, robots and space zombie foes. Thus, overall, in my humble opinion, it was a very impressive and rich raft of Doctor Who episodes.
EPISODE REVIEW AND RATINGS (with more SPOLIERS)
THE PILOT – Steven Moffat
This was a terrific opening episode full of fine sci-fi and fantasy concepts which established a melancholic desire for belonging and love across the stars. Bill meets the Doctor and is pursued by a strange alien force in oil form and we see the Vault for the first time. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
SMILE – Frank Cottrell Bryce
Bill and The Doctor visit an Earth colony run by Emoji-faced robots which somehow had been programmed to treat grief and depression as a disease. A beautifully designed other world setting mixing future and agricultural landscapes is the strength of this episode. The Bill and Doctor dynamic also developed very nicely too. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)
THIN ICE – Sarah Dollard
Set in London 1814, the story found a nasty English Toff exploiting a beast below the iced river of the Thames for super-fuel. Bill discovers the Doctor is not a stranger to death and as a critique of the racist and prejudicial nature of the upper classes the episode works very well. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
KNOCK-KNOCK – Mike Bartlett
Strange landlords, cockroaches and a house that eats people are the dangers that face Bill and her flatmates in this episode. David Suchet is on excellent form as the antagonist compelled to keep his Mother alive in a touching reveal at the story end. Capaldi’s Doctor is kind of in the background but, of course, comes to the fore when danger strikes. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
OXYGEN – Jamie Mathieson
This was a terrific episode set on a space station where the air is literally paid for by the breath. Space zombies run amok as the Doctor, Bill and Nardole join a panicked crew into battling both monsters and a capitalist algorithm hell-bent on increasing profits. It’s full of great space mechanics, plot twists and race-against-the-clock excitement. Plus, the biggest gut-kicker is the Doctor goes blind; and the ramifications are very dramatic in later episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)
EXTREMIS – Steve Moffat
This was a tricksy episode because, amidst the Doctor’s blindness, we also got the Doctor saving Missy from a fate worse than a fate worse than death. We also got The Monks who, similar to the skull-faced Silence were a religious baddie determined to take over Earth. It was wonderfully crafted with a fine Monty Python “Killing Joke” homage and convincing critique of organised religion and suicide cults. Arguably the simulacra-twist at the end undermined the drama a tad, but on second watch it was a very clever and well-written episode. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)
THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD – Peter Harkness and Steven Moffat
Following on from the religion heavy previous episode here the writers took a swipe at the military and the scientific folly of humanity. The Monks now reveal themselves openly and clearly to the world and that they will save the Earth from a biochemical catastrophe. The most powerful aspect of this episode is Bill’s decision to save the Doctor’s sight even though it means the Monks gaining control. Here the emotional power of the script was impressive and Capaldi was awesome in both wit and gravitas. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
THE LIE OF THE LAND – Toby Whithouse
The Monks trilogy came to an end with the world plunged into a dystopic Big Brother style mind-controlling of stupid and gullible human beings. The Doctor has sided with the Monks and Bill and Nardole must track him down to attempt a reversal of fortune. Again Bill is at the centre of the emotion here as Pearl Mackie delivers a fine dramatic performance. Safe to say the Doctor and Bill’s love for her mother defeat the Monks somewhat fantastically but a strong denouement nonetheless. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)
EMPRESS OF MARS – Mark Gatiss
A meta-mish-mash episode from Mark Gatiss, as Zulu meets the Icemen of Mars! This fast-paced episode was reminiscent of old Doctor Who as the British Empire soldiers find they are no match for the Icemen and their recently awoken Empress. A direct cousin to the Gatiss-penned episode Cold War, what it lacked in emotion it made up with in humour and derring-do. (Mark: 7 out of 10)
THE EATERS OF LIGHT – Rona Munro
More soldiers but this time the episode features the Picts and legendary 9th Roman Legion which mysteriously went missing in 2nd century Scotland. There was a lilting Celtic vibe to the music and cold landscape as a vicious beast feeds on the light and any humans in its way. I enjoyed the witty script and mix of historical and science fantasy made it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)
WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME – Steve Moffat
This was my favourite episode of the season; only spoilt by the BBC ridiculous policy of giving away plot details in the trailers. Here the Doctor, Nardole and Bill land on a humungous space-ship over 400 miles high which is perilously close to a black hole. The Doctor gives Missy a chance to shine as er… The Doctor and much hilarity ensues. Michelle Gomez owns this episode and the moment she meets her past Master is a wonderful twist. I loved the duality of evil theme and the ship with different temporal states was just a brilliant concept from Moffat. Bill’s slow transition into a Mondasian Cyberman is directed with creepy imagery and fear-inducing dread; while Capaldi’s face when he realises he’s too late is damned heart-breaking. (Mark: 10 out of 10)
THE DOCTOR FALLS – Steven Moffat
The Doctor, Nardole and Cyber-Bill join together to battle the gathering Cybernetic storm. In their way though are the old Master and an on-the-fence-good-bad Missy. Bill’s realisation that she is a Cyber-person adds real pathos, while the Missy/Master axis of evil contains some dark wit between the action. The Doctor stands strong, until even he cannot sustain life amidst the beatings, electrocutions and explosions he suffers. With the Doctor and Bill virtually dead, and the Master and Missy killing each other, it is left to Heather (from The Pilot) to save the day. It was a big narrative pill to swallow but I loved the sentiment of love conquering space and time. Lastly, the final image of the Doctor, dying in the snow, being found by his original self was a wonderful payoff to lead into the Capaldi’s regeneration episode.(Mark: 9 out of 10)
I read on the social media forums a lot that, amidst the more level-headed Dr Who fans, people are very critical of how the show has gone under Steven Moffat. Like a football supporter unhappy with their manager they have been complaining that Moffat’s writing is not very good and episodes have become stale and repetitive or even worse boring. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I say to those people to stop watching.
Having viewed all of the rebooted Dr Who seasons many times I think, for a science-fiction family show screened at teatime on a Saturday it is actually on the main brilliant. Some of Moffat’s over-elaborate timey-wimey arcs have probably been too complex and fantastical, however, he has tried to be imaginative and experimental and for that should be congratulated. He has done great service to the grand Time Lord and he, the production crew, actors and writers should be proud of their wonderful efforts.
We await a new Doctor and a regenerating writing team led by Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame. Broadchurch was a brilliant police show set in a coastal community and if he can bring the emotion and depth of character to Doctor Who, I believe the show will be in safe hands. And who will be the next Doctor! Well, my choice would be the superb actor Reece Shearsmith and if they so happen to make the character female then I would go for Olivia Colman. Who it will be only time (and space) will tell.
SIX OF THE BEST #7 – GAME OF THRONES: SCENE STEALERS!
Game of Thrones is one of the biggest literary and TV phenomena of recent years. It has entered Western cultures’ psyche offering a glut of: plotting, death, sex, class-divide, war, fantastical beasts and devilish sorcery! I think the main strength lies though in the wonderful writing that stems first from George R.R. Martin’s behemoth tomes and the incredible production values of the show. Plus, the casting, acting and directing is more often than not better than most cinema offerings.
With Season Seven almost upon us I have been re-watching the show on Sky Atlantic and decided to run a few blog items over the next few weeks dedicated to Game of Thrones. Today, I choose six characters that for me have excelled in essentially supporting roles and usually end up stealing scenes from the main characters. One could argue that some of these are now main characters, however, in an ensemble cast I consider Tyrion, Daenerys, Cersei, Jamie, Arya, Sansa, Bran, Jon Snow, Varys and – due to his heavy plot machinations – Petyr Baelish etc. to arguably be the main characters. Well, of the ones who are still alive that is!
BRONN – JEROME FLYNN
“Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I’ll impregnate the bitch.”
Bronn initially appeared in the first season and championed for Tyrion Lannister when he faced certain death in the Eyrie. Subsequently his Northern working class “charm”, philandering and brilliant fighting skills have provided many scene-stealing moments as Jerome Flynn presents a likeable and honest sword-for-hire-killer to a tee.
JAQEN H’GHAR/THE FACELESS MAN – TOM WLASCHIBA
“Help was not promised. Only death. Give a name, any name.”
Another assassin but this time one that is more mysterious and fantastical. Jaqen first appeared as a “tutor” of death and magical helper to Arya as he aided her escape from a Harrenhal bolthole. Subsequently, we saw nothing of him until seasons 5 and 6 when he takes Arya into his Braavos school for assassins and teaches her to become a “Faceless Man”, well women, or person of non-face and non-gendered persuasion.
SANDOR “THE HOUND” CLEGANE – RORY McCANN
“Any man dies with a clean sword, I’ll rape his fucking corpse!”
He may have a burnt face and rotten murderous soul but I love the Hound. First seen as part of the Lannister’s sworn swords he bailed at the battle of Blackwater due to the wildfire burning bodies, ships and the horizon. After which he became a Ronin, walking the land and attempting some kind of symbolic redemption. Left for dead by Brienne of Tarth (who should be on this list) we thought we’d never see him again. But in the last season he was back; swearing, murderising and spitting out brutal one-liners with disgusting joy!
WALDER FREY – DAVID BRADLEY
“Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon. Give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of you?”
The brilliant character actor David Bradley plays the nastiest, grim, old, sexist, racist, murderous bastard perfectly. You are both squirming in shock and then grimacing in horror at the words which leave his gnarled mouth. Of course, Robb Stark and his mother will never forget Walder Frey as he was the host at the infamous Red Wedding; which has a reception no one will ever forget.
YARA GREYJOY – GEMMA WHELAN
“Anything with a cock is easy to fool.”
Sister of the tragic Theon Greyjoy, Yara is the one with the proper balls in the family. Her character is first seen in Season 2, when from the start she tricks her brother with an incestuous practical joke. Yara impresses with her no nonsense attitude, intelligence and fearless confidence throughout as Gemma Whelan instils her character with a playful, yet fierce and probably psychotic depth and determination.
YGRITTE – ROSE LESLIE
“I’ll cut your pretty cock right off and wear it round me neck.”
Ygritte was a feisty, fiery but sharp player who belied her Wildling roots to develop a passion and love for Jon Snow amidst the cold landscape beyond the wall. Initially taken prisoner by Jon she turns the tables and eventually the two become entwined. Even watching today the chemistry between the two actors on-screen is very powerful as Rose Leslie brings real passion to the role. Moreover, their relationship also propels Jon’s softening in attitude toward the Wildling people; ultimately forging a powerful alliance.