DOCTOR WHO– S11 – EP. 8 REVIEW – THE WITCHFINDERS (2018)

DOCTOR WHO– S11 – EP. 8 REVIEW – THE WITCHFINDERS (2018)

Directed by: Sallie Aprahamian

Written by: Joy Wilkinson

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Alan Cumming, Siobhan Finneran, Tilly Steele, Tricia Kelly, Arthur Kay  

Produced by: Alex Mercer

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Well, after enjoying a number of this season’s episodes for fascinating writing and emotional exploration of important historical events, we finally got one that didn’t work for me on the whole. The Witchfinders found the Doctor and the now tiresomely named “gang”, in attempting to time travel to the Coronation of Elizabeth I, ending up in a bitter backward village in Lancashire. There they discover all manner of horrific deeds being dealt upon the women folk; all accused of witchcraft by the aptly named matriarch of the manor, Becca Savage.

It is announced by Savage – an excellent Siobhan Finneran – that Satan’s work is legion in the village and witches will be tried by dunking. If they survive and are able to breath under water then they are damned as a witch. Yet, if they drown they are not a witch. This medieval version of “Catch 22” was actually a real thing and while incredible to today’s woke audiences shows our ancestors in a very poor light. There is often some reflection and resonance to current times where Doctor Who is concerned and here there is no difference. Indeed, witch-hunts often occur in society now via the press or new-fangled “demon” – the damned social media.

Along with Finneran as Savage, Alan Cumming also guest stars as King James I. It’s a slyly camp and arguably over-the-top performance that Cumming excels at and was enjoyable nonetheless. However, as the episode proceeded the strength of the witch-hunt ideas gave way to a really badly written script and the Doctor and Graham wearing hats anachronistically for weak comic effect. I guess the Doctor has a bit more action, rather than being a cypher for history; and at least finds herself in a bit more peril too. But I have to admit I don’t think Jodie Whittaker is getting hold of the role of the Doctor in the way her predecessors did. It’s almost as if she’s copying David Tennant or Matt Smith too much. It’s a shame, but you cannot just blame sloppy writing or directing, as it’s now clear Whittaker is not owning the role.

The ending of the episode, while containing some brilliant monsters, was so hurried. We got a barrage of exposition in a final face-off scene which also contained some very shoddy effects. The Witchfinders was therefore a bang average episode, which started very promisingly but drowned by the end in a lake of mediocrity. Indeed, if you go to YouTube you will find a plethora of postings which are decrying the end of Doctor Who as we know it. I myself believe it’s far too early to grab a torch and join that mob. Because, on the whole, the series has had some great episodes, but unfortunately this wasn’t one of them.  

Mark: 6 out of 11

MOUNTVIEW FILM ACADEMY RETROSPECTIVE #1 – THE BLACK ROOM (2008)

MOUNTVIEW FILM ACADEMY RETROSPECTIVE #1 – THE BLACK ROOM (2008)

A rather indulgent post this!!  

Between the years of 2008 and 2011, I did some screenwriting work for the Mountview FilmAcademy; a filmic extension of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Based in London, they would produce a number of student acting projects including many low budget short films. Notable Mountview Alumni include: Craig Parkinson, Eddie Marsan, Lois Chimimba, Connie Fisher, Douglas Henshall, Rebecca Trehearn and many more.

Writers would be shuttled in and given a remit to create short films using specified actors,locations and length of film.  In 2008, I wrote a film called THE BLACK ROOM. It featured some talented actors and was directed by Jonathan Wolff. It’s a black comedy farce, concerning a writer who is struggling so much to write a period drama he starts to go a bit mad.

Watching the film back after ten years is interesting from a creative perspective. I actually think it works really well still and the story holds up despite the very low budget. Indeed, in places I still think the short film is pretty funny; echoing, on a very minor level, Charlie Kaufman’s meta-textual work in the film Adaptation (2002). Anyway, here it is:

DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 7 REVIEW – KERBLAM (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 7 REVIEW – KERBLAM (2018)

Directed by: Jennifer Perrott

Written by: Pete McTighe

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie etc.

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Kerblam

After the moving emotion and historical power of last week’s episode, this week the Doctor was back to the future and in outer space. Following a delivery from the Kerblam shopping emporium the Tardis crew receive a message pleading for help. Quicker than you can say Amazon, the team are soon undercover at the space factory trying to find out what’s going on at Kerblam.

It’s a pacey episode with some excellent one-liners and a pretty involving plot. The writer Peter Tighe manages to cram in some corporate sabotage, a romance plot and creepy androids – called TeamMates – reminiscent of the electric cab drivers from Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990). It also features some excellent guest appearances from comedian Lee Mack and Julie Hesmondhalgh who stand-out in their under-written roles. Aside from a couple of wonky narrative moments and dodgy CGI conveyor belt chase the episode was very enjoyable.

Mandip Gill

In terms of subtext there were some interesting points to be made about online shopping empires and the idea that machines are making human beings redundant. However, this wasn’t laboured but successfully integrated into the humorous and, at times, suspenseful story. Indeed, this felt more like one of the lighter Matt Smith or David Tennant episodes in terms of wit, action and theme. My main issue now with the series is that the Doctor’s characterisation is not as interesting as previous ones.

It is now the seventh week for Jodie Whittaker’s tenure and in each episode I have really wanted her to stamp her acting authority on the role. She is a great actor but perhaps some of the directing is failing to make the most of her ability. The show is entertaining enough but it does feel too dramatically lightweight in terms of Whittaker’s performance at times. Of course, I am still really enjoying the show but at present the Doctor is more of a cypher rather than a rounded character. Jodie Whittaker is carrying the episodes brilliantly but there’s got to be more weight and intensity for me.

Mark: 8 out of 11

 

DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 6 REVIEW – DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 6 REVIEW – DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by: Vinay Patel

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Leena Dhingra, Amita Suman, Shane Zaza, Hamza Jeetooa etc.

Produced by: Alex Mercer

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Doctor Who Demons of the Punjab


This season of Doctor Who is now settling into a strong mix of diversity, narrative simplicity and emotional resonance. I’ve read some negative comments bemoaning the quality of the writing and weakness of the stories in general, however, as Sunday night teatime entertainment goes the show is a success in my view. Indeed, the latest episode, Demons of the Punjab was another involving and fascinating watch.

This week it was Yaz’ character which took centre stage as her curiosity about her grandmother, Umbreen, found the Doctor breaking time-travel protocol. If you’ve seen the Doctor Who episode Father’s Day and film classic Back to the Future (1985) we all know how dangerous it can be for anyone to cross their own timeline. Indeed, while the Doctor has actually crossed her own timeline before many times she should really know better!


Doctor Who India


Thus, Team TARDIS travelled back to 1947 as the Partition of India took place. Here Yaz gets to meet her own family members as her grandmother is about to marry. Of course the path of true love and time travel rarely goes smoothly and the course of history is threatened by Yaz’ presence and her and the Doctor must attempt to not interfere with events. Of course, it would not be a Doctor Who episode without some kind of alien threat and this is provided by the Vajarians; a mystical race who appear where chaos is ensuing across the universe. Their presence adds an air of mystery to the episode, but ultimately they are an emotional subplot to the main conflict relating to how the Partition of India affects Yaz’ family.

Overall, Demons of the Punjab successfully combined political, historical, romance and drama in amidst the usual science fiction concepts. It was especially strong from an emotional perspective. By the end as a family is torn apart by the situation I felt a real sadness in my heart. The division of India by the British Empire was an event which divided people based on their religion and ethnic background and created a huge schism between families, colleagues and friends. Doctor Who merely skims the surface of the impact it would have and the lives affected by the subsequent conflict. Yet, what the episode teaches us is that while we may not be able to change history we must learn from it. We must learn that division and conflict can only lead to heartache and pain.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


SIX OF THE BEST #14 – BILLY WILDER

SIX OF THE BEST #14 – BILLY WILDER

Samuel “Billy” Wilder is arguably one of the finest screenwriters that ever put fingers to typewriter; and certainly one of the best writer-directors of all time. Indeed, until Woody Allen surpassed him he was nominated for best screenwriter at the Academy Awards TWELVE times! Overall, he would win six Oscars plus a special Academy Award.

Wilder was born in 1906 in Austria Hungary; in an area which is now part of Poland. Having moved to Berlin in his twenties, Wilder served an apprenticeship as a writer on a newspaper. However, he soon got work as a screenwriter in the German film industry and a star was born. The rise of the Nazis caused Wilder to move again, to Paris and then latterly to Hollywood. There he would have an incredible career in movie-making spanning over thirty years, writing, producing and directing over thirty-odd films, many of the classics of cinema.

So, in keeping with the remit of this occasional series I have decided to pick out six of Wilder’s best films and explain why they are just brilliant. To be honest I could probably pick out twenty of the best where Wilder is concerned, but will stick to six!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


Double Indemnity (1944)

For any screenwriters out there Wilder’s work is often a technical and intricate joy. Character, dialogue, plot and twists are all combined to create an incredibly deep texture within the work. Double Indemnity was adapted from James M. Cain’s devious noir novella and found Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck plotting to kill her husband for the insurance money. Wilder worked on the screenplay with Raymond Chandler and while the two didn’t hit it off their collaboration produced one of the classic film noirs of the period. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and confirmed the star status of both Stanwyck and MacMurray. As MacMurray’s desperate voiceover reveals the events of the story we are pulled into a web on deceit and murder which show human nature as greedy, vicious and unforgiving.


The Lost Weekend (1945)

It is worth noting that Wilder’s success would perhaps not been as successful if not for his partnership with producer and writer Charles Brackett. They worked on many successful films together and The Lost Weekend was one such triumph. Based on Charles Jackson’ novel about an alcoholic writer teetering on the edge of self-destruction, Ray Milland’s character found himself awash in an existential and drunken haze. Wilder’s work as a screenwriter is again brilliant as he takes a very unsympathetic character and makes him both human and empathetic. This is down to both Milland’s fine performance and Wilder’s key direction; both would win Academy Awards. Overall, it’s a tragic struggle which reflects those individuals who constantly battle against the booze. Many see alcohol as a friend but it can quickly turn into an enemy without warning or notice.


Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Working from an original story Wilder and Brackett turned the eyes and ears inward toward the Hollywood machine; asking the question: what happens to the Hollywood legends after their star has crashed and burned. The answer was the character of Norma Desmond, a silent movie star craving a comeback and refusing to accept her career is over. Gloria Swanson is absolutely terrifying as the ageing screen goddess, as she spits out famous lines such as: “I am big; it’s the pictures that got small!” Meanwhile, William Holden is also superb as the cynical writer beaten down by his own world weariness within the Hollywood system. The classic opening scene of his limp dead body lying face down in a swimming pool as he recounts how he came to be there is one of the most iconic images in all cinema.


Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

I probably could have gone for a number of Wilder’s movies including: Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954) or The Fortune Cookie (1966), which was the first film to place Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon on screen together; however, I’m a sucker for a good Agatha Christie story. Witness for the Prosecution features two stunning acting turns from Marlene Dietrich as the wife of the murder suspect, and Charles Laughton as the barrister charged with defending him. In his final film Tyrone Power plays the accused Leonard Vole, who is on trial for murdering a wealthy widow. Laughton’s eccentric barrister defends him but he has help on the way from an unexpected source. Wilder directs his cast with wit and suspense, making the most of Agatha Christie’s dynamite plot which has two grand and unexpected twists at the end.


Some Like It Hot (1959)

Arguably the best film comedy ever and also one of the best films of all time, Some Like It Hot, on paper, shouldn’t really work. Two male musicians dress up as women to go on the run from the mob is as silly an idea as you could get. However, with Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond’s intricate script, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon so good in the leads, plus an effervescent Marilyn Monroe at the height of her star power you get all-round cinematic gold. Combining gangster, comedy, musical and romance elements the film fizzes with style, humour and song, as the complex plot involves hilarious identity and gender switches. At one point Curtis’ Joe has split himself into three parts. Ultimately, Wilder and his collaborators have created almost a perfect movie featuring one of the finest end lines in cinema history.


The Apartment (1960)

While Some Like It Hot veered toward comedic farce, The Apartment is a somewhat more mature and darker-themed comedy. Once again starring Jack Lemmon, he portrays C.C. Baxter, a downtrodden office worker whose apartment is used by executives for their extra-marital dalliances. While these liaisons see him gain promotion he begins to doubt his actions and his conscience gets the better of him. The guilt is especially heightened when he begins to fall for Shirley MacLaine’s elevator operator, Fran. Fighting back against the corporate bosses does him no favours but it does bring him closer to Fran. Both a satire against odious men and their sexist practices, plus a touching romance, Jack Lemmon illuminates the screen all hang-dog expressions and nagging angst. MacLaine too shines in a sympathetic role as a woman treated like a perpetual door-mat. The film won five Oscars and once again proved the genius of Billy Wilder.

WIDOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

WIDOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Produced by: Steve McQueen, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Arnon Milchan

Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen

Based on: Widows by Lynda La Plante

Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Widows Film Poster


I was really looking forward to this new film from acclaimed and highly talented filmmaker Steve McQueen. Firstly, his previous directorial releases including 12 Years a Slave (2013), Shame (2011) and Hunger (2008) were all fierce works of drama. Secondly, the story is based on Lynda La Plante’s excellent British television series from the 1980s; plus it has a fantastic ensemble cast led by Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and many more. So, why was I slightly underwhelmed by the end of the film? I mean all the cinematic elements were of the highest quality, yet, for me, it just did not catch fire.


Liam Neeson and Viola Davis


After the death of her husband, Harry Rawlins (Neeson), Viola Davis’ Veronica, decides to use his plans to attempt a daring robbery enlisting the help of the other crime widows. The stakes are high as Harry’s last job pissed off some dangerous people and they want their money back. Transplanting the action from the La Plante’s tough London setting to contemporary Chicago retains the gritty backdrop of the original. Indeed, Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen’s script keep the beats of the heist plot and structurally the film is very sound. However, the addition of political subplots involving a district Alderman Election between Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan and Brian Tyree Henry’s Jamal Manning, while adding extra flavour to the mix, at times, slow down the pace of the heist narrative. Even a subplot flashback involving Viola Davis’ son, while adding important empathy for her character, felt like it was from another film. Thus, a movie can be about many things; however, I just felt that a lot of the themes were at a surface level of emotion.


Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry
Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in Twentieth Century Fox’s WIDOWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.


The acting and direction in the film is excellent. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are all brilliant; although, Erivo’s character seemed to be introduced slightly late for me. Yet, I wanted the film to be even more about the women’s struggle in this traditionally masculine world. Maybe I’m being harsh as the filmmaking is really good, but it got bogged down by too many sub-plots. Moreover, where suspense could have been gained when Debicki’s character goes to buy guns we get a throwaway scene played for humour. The male characters are generally portrayed as corrupt, psychopathic or simply evil; especially where Daniel Kaluuya’s psycho turn is concerned. Brian Tyree Henry is a very interesting actor too and I have watched a lot of him in the TV show Atlanta. However, his impact on the story is slowly dissipated throughout.


Cynthia Erivo, Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki


Overall, Widows is a very solid genre offering from Steve McQueen and his team. All the elements are there for a barnstorming crime thriller with racial and political elements as texture. Plus, while I knew of a couple of decent twists from the original the script delivers them very well. However, there were also several plot-holes within the story which could not be reconciled. I guess with my expectations high I was expecting the doors to be totally blown off due to the incredible talent involved. However, they remained firmly on their hinges by the time the credits rolled.

Mark: 7 out of 11


THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

Based on: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Created and Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Screenplay(s) by: Mike Flanagan, Liz Phang, Scott Kosar, Meredith Averill, Jeff Howard, Rebecca Klingel etc.

Executive producer(s): Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Meredith Averill

Production company(s): Flanagan Film, Amblin Television, Paramount Television, Netflix

Starring: Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Timothy Hutton etc.

**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

hohh_105_unit_03033r-h_2018

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is often proclaimed as one of the creepiest horror novels of all time. Made for the cinema twice, most memorably in 1963, by acclaimed director Robert Wise; who was perhaps so scared by the content his next film would be the musical Sound of Music (1965). Jokes aside, the novel is considered a classic and so genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, took on the task to bring it television over ten compelling episodes.

As Netflix produce a hell of a lot of original content I find it difficult to keep up with. However, I heard some decent buzz about The Haunting of Hill House, so decided to watch it before spoilers were plaguing the internet. From Jackson’s novel Flanagan has expanded the Hill House universe to bring an older ghost story bang up to date. Rather than centre on a seemingly disparate set of characters like the original, he has made the protagonists part of the same family. Therefore, the show is a confident mix of family drama, psychological and frightening horror.

Haunting-Hill-House-Cast-Character-Guide

Flanagan and his writing team structure the episodes on a back-and-forth spine which finds the Crain family, at first moving into Hill House as a young family. Mother and father are portrayed by Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas (later Timothy Hutton) respectively, and together they have five young children, the oldest Stephen being around thirteen years old. We then bounce from the past to the present to show the children grown up, working through various angst and dramas as adults. Safe to say, pretty much all their problems are caused by that fateful summer spent renovating Hill House.

Arguably, the biggest character of them all in the programme is the house itself. It is a foreboding presence which infects the lives of all the characters in youth and adulthood. Conversely we are drawn into a rich tapestry of: ghosts, suicide, despair, death, addiction, therapy, marriage, lies, hallucinations, mental illness, death and divorce. Throughout, we are plunged into Hill House’s bag of spooky tricks as the family are terrorized insidiously by the property.

haunting-of-hill-house-long-take-episode.jpg

Over ten brilliantly written episodes Mike Flanagan, his excellent cast and superb production team deliver some breath-taking horror moments. There’s also some chilling set-pieces, swooping camera-work, macabre monsters and really moving character monologues sprinkled within the scares and drama too. Most importantly, because of a careful and slow-build narrative, you really care what happens to the Crain family. This is also down to some excellent performances by the young children and older cast members.

screen-shot-2018-10-10-at-11-40-10

I would argue that the usual Netflix format of ten episodes finds the story stretched during certain periods. Indeed, while the storytelling and horror pay-offs are brilliantly imagined, some editing would have made them feel even more powerful. Yet, as he demonstrated with horror films Oculus (2013), Hush (2016) and Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan is a skilled filmmaker who has brought Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel to the screen with chilling acumen.

Mark: 9 out of 11

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!