Monthly Archives: February 2016

Film Review – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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I absolutely adore this film. There is very little in the way of realism when it comes to the fight scenes, but honestly that is part of the magic of the film for me. And then there are the haunting cello solos in the soundtrack, which are just perfection.

The plot of the film is a combination of love that goes unrequited but also is passionate and thwarted, as well as revenge both justified and petty. It doesn’t have the most fast moving or even most subtle of plots, and many people might not understand the traditions of China that motivate many of the characters, but that doesn’t matter because it is beautifully shot and you still feel the heartbreak the characters are going through.

The thing that I loved most about the film though is that part of the plot is about how women are not supposed to be warriors and are just supposed the marry men, and become good wives. However three of the five main characters in the film are women who completely contravene this expectation and are either independent already or fight for their independence.

When I first saw this film I was a teenager learning martial arts, and while I certainly a lot of encouragement, I was also fighting battles against gender stereotypes of what girls are supposed to me into and what we are supposed to leave to the boys. It didn’t matter that I was better than most of the boys and that I could beat them in a fight (which I did frequently in order to win competitions) I had to justify why I did it and I was faced with constant surprise when I proved myself to be good, some of which came from one of my teachers as well.

Needless to say I was in a toxic environment, which ironically also introduced be to martial arts films, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where there were strong female characters in fight scenes, being completely kick-ass and destroying gender stereotypes at the same time.

I love it and I hope the sequel can do the original justice.

Film Review: Dredd

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Most people who know me and my general taste in movies are utterly surprised when I say that I love Dredd, especially if they are also fans of the comic books series. They mostly say, “But it’s incredibly violent and you don’t watch that sort of thing”. I usually reply with something along the line of, “Yeah I know, but the film’s awesome, and easily my favourite comic book film ever. I don’t know the comics but that film makes me want to actually read them.”

Saying that sort of thing generally sparks off a series of recommendations and an agreement; Dredd is easily one of the best adaptions from comic books ever made. Most films based on comics don’t make me interested in the source material; Dredd does and the reliance on the source material, which I’ve been told has been very faithfully adapted for the big screen, is for me the reason behind its success. All of the creative energy that has been going into the comic books for years is utilised as much as possible, rather than just being used as an occasion reference.

And it is such a shame that Dredd, despite being brilliant, wasn’t successful in terms of money. I know that money is important and that it fuels Hollywood, but sometimes I do despair that for an industry based on creative forces and storytelling that sometimes they are put aside simply because of money. Especially when I see some of the drivel that is made and produced, when utterly brilliant ideas are put aside.

Hollywood is currently in a trend (that is seemingly never-ending and tedious) of making sequels, prequels and re-makes of old favourites that has source material like a book to base it on, and I know that Dredd falls into the category of not being original having been based on a comic book and for even being a re-make of a 90s film. I know that begging for a sequel is a bit hypocritical, but then again most sequels, prequels and remakes are based on marginally successful films that appeal to a mass market and are then done badly.

Dredd is more niche, can’t be advertised to children, and therefore families, like other comic book films can be. I think it is very much because of that limited consumer market that Dredd is less likely to be considered for a sequel, as it would be more expensive to produce than a second-rate horror film that is normally produced for the adult market. And honest to god is a tragedy that this is the case. Fine it isn’t original, it is an adaption, but the film is just superb from start to finish.

Dredd, portrayed by Karl Urban, is a character you only know from his chin, is the perfect anti-hero. The world of Mega-City One is a place where fascism and anarchy clash on a daily basis, and Dredd is a judge with the power to catch, convict and execute criminals. He lacks charisma, and has few redeemable features, but I adore the character. I love that he’s teamed with Judge Anderson, a rookie with psychic abilities who looks cute and vulnerable, but is determined and more than capable of holding her own.

They clash with Ma-Ma, who is beautifully and terrifying portrayed by Lena Headey. She is the perfect villain; she is sinister, ruthless and subtle. There is nothing over the top about her character; she is utterly confident in her own abilities and her command over her clan, which makes her deadly. Her hold of terror over Domhnall Gleeson’s role as the Clan’s tech expert makes you fear for his character. Gleeson might not be well known for his role in this underrated film, and Headey is better known for being a Lannister, but their performances are sublime.

It isn’t just the characters that I like in the film. The plot, is also great. It’s not too complicated, but not so simple as to be boring. The film is essentially a day in the life of Judge Dredd, which results in him being trapped in Peach Trees, a mega block controlled by Ma-Ma’s clan after he and Anderson arrive to investigate a triple homicide and end up doing a routine drug bust. They step on Ma-Ma’s toes though and end up in a full on war with the clan. It all happens in a day and has you hooked as you don’t know what will happen as the two judges ascend the floors and turn each corner.

Then the third element that makes the film great and is one of the things I love the most is the world-building. Mega City One is a massive dystopian city that is very well thought out and created. I am partial to a dystopian world, and Mega City One just ticks all the boxes, especially as a city. It is grim, realistic, has a criminal underbelly and an opposing authority, with a sub-culture of mutants. Most the city though is make up of good and decent people who are just trying to make their way in the world and life their lives. The law enforcement might be a bit fascist, but they are there to protect law abiding citizens against the anarchy, and it is that clash between law and disorder in a city of constrained space is the perfect background for the plot and characters.

It is the excellent execution of the critical elements of storytelling (characters, plot and world-building) that makes Dredd a brilliantly conceived film. Fine it isn’t an original idea, but it was a faithful adaptation of an original idea made with a great script, great actors and a passion for making something that was a little bit different than what the mainstream film market normally offers. Sequel please!

Film Review: RED 2

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Everything that I loved about the first RED film did carry forward into the second film, but unfortunately it just isn’t as good. The characters from the original film are all still as great, and while the threat of nuclear destruction is a great base for an action thriller, there is something about the film that doesn’t work for me, which is weird because when you look at all the pieces that make up the film, there isn’t anything majorly wrong.

There are a lot more characters in play though, and I think that may have been part of the problem with the film. All of the original characters are still fantastic, and Anthony Hopkins role as Edward Bailey is superb, all of the other introduced characters though are a bit two dimensional. David Thewlis’ performance as The Frog is great but I never got to grips with the character because he was pretty much just a cameo.

Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character was the one I liked the least in the entire film, mainly because she over-acted a little bit, I assume under direction, to simply be the beautiful Russian seductress that plagues Mary-Louise Parker’s character with doubts. The tradition of pitting female characters against each other over a man really annoys the hell out of me, because in reality women tend to be very supportive of each other. Her character though is the only thing I can genuinely point out in the film as being something I don’t like.

Anthony Hopkins character and all of his various interactions in the film are utterly superb. His character pulls on all of the strings in order to get what he wants. His character is a little bit unpredictable, in a similar way to Batman’s Joker, but because he looks harmless is completely underestimated by all the characters throughout the film. He’s a great antagonist, but I do feel as if the plot surrounding him gets a little bit convoluted at times and in places unnecessarily complex.

Overall the film is great and a worthy sequel that is worth seeing, but it didn’t quite live up to RED, and I think it was the introduction of the new characters and an overwritten plot that did it for me.

Film Review: RED

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RED for me sort of came out of nowhere and took me completely by surprise. I liked the concept from the trailer: RED, Retired, Extremely Dangerous. I think what sold it for me from the trailer alone was seeing Helen Mirren behind a machine gun. It was great in the trailer and even better in the film.

I love the film from start to finish; it is a classic action thriller, with the dash of comedy. Bruce Willis brings the experience of being an action hero to the screen (and the scene of him exiting a spinning vehicle to fire at Karl Urban still give me goosebumps), while Morgan Freeman brings a grounding into reality, John Malkovich brings paranoia, and Helen Mirren is just elegant and kick ass.

However, I especially love Mary Louise Parker, who isn’t RED, but just an average normal woman who gets caught up in the conspiracy and having the time of her life. Her chemistry with Willis’ character is pitch perfect, and while most people wouldn’t relate to the situation they find themselves in, but their desire to protect each other is very believable.

I can remember when I first watched it that I had thought the actions sequences, some of the direction and the transition styles were very comic-booky, with good reason apparently as I later learnt. RED is a comic book movie, and more than that it is a DC movie, which I will admit shocked me a little bit. If I was forced to choose between DC and Marvel, then I am a Marvel girl, very much because of the X-Men, but in part also because the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I love DC, but I do find it a bit grim and a lot more serious than Marvel, which is why I was very surprised with RED because while it certainly is serious in places, it really doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I think that light touch approach is what makes the film so brilliant. None of the RED characters need to try; Willis, Freeman, Malkovich and Mirren have approached their characters portrayal with an air of effortlessness and practicality. They don’t put in more than they need to in order to complete the tasks at hand and the confidence they imbue just pours off the screen. Despite being retired, they are extremely dangerous because they have no doubt in their abilities.

When compared to Karl Urban’s character you can see the generational differences; Urban’s character is very much of the ‘try to have it all’ generation with a wife and kids that makes him vulnerable. The rest sacrificed all of that, which is why Willis’ character is now trying to find that now in retirement.  It does however pay off for Urban, because I think that grounding in reality is what makes him as practical as Willis’ character and helps him to make the judgement of who to trust in the end, because normal people are trusting and generally decent.

I absolutely adore the film; it is easily one of my favourites from DC, and I strongly recommended it because you get laughs, actions and three dimensional characters in a seamless and effortless thriller.

TV Review – The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

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One of the things I do love the most about Doctor Who is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, at least not all the time. This thirty minute comedy spoof is proof of that and was a fabulous way for some of the classic doctors to get involved with the 50th Anniversary.

It is written and directed by Peter Davison, who portrayed the fifth doctor who before the re-launch was the only Doctor I could readily recognise and the only actor who had portrayed the character that I was familiar with. He’d been back on the show before for a Children in Need special and I couldn’t wait to see this spoof.

It is absolutely brilliant from start to finish. I especially loved that Peter Jackson and Ian McKellan did a brief cameo from the set of the Hobbit. I think what I loved the most though was seeing Russell T Davies back and in action, and Steven Moffat being as callous as many of us imagine he must be considering the affect he has on our heart strings through his writing. There are lots of cameos in the show and its great fun seeing these people parody themselves.

It might be short, and it might not be for everybody, especially younger audiences who had no idea about the legacy of Doctor Who, but it is funny from start to finish, and is a homage to the show and some of the actors who have been involved over the decades.

Film Review – An Adventure in Space and Time

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When it was the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who I very much enjoyed letting myself get swept away in the excitement of it all. One of the things I loved the most was Mark Gatiss’ film about the First Doctor. I have to admit, I am very much a fan of the re-launched show from 2005 onwards, and other than what I have read in books over the years I don’t know very much about the first eight Doctors other than who they are and what costume they wore.

So when I saw that a film had been made about the origins of the show and the first Doctor I jumped on the opportunity to watch it. I loved every single minute. I adore David Bradley and he did a great deal of justice to William Hartnell, making the actor not just a bit rough around the edges but also an emotionally driven person, who slowly came to love the Doctor and the show as much as the rest of us.

What was really the stand out performance was Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert. I didn’t know much about Lambert other than she was a producer for Jonathan Creek. What I hadn’t realised was just how pivotal her role was not just in launching Doctor Who, but also for gaining women a voice when working in the media. This film for me is as much about honouring the show as it is recognising her contribution.

This film is amazing and I highly recommend it, not just to Doctor Who fans, but anyone interested in knowing how TV used to be made and the people who made it.

Doctor Who and Torchwood

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Doctor Who has been an obsession for years now. I might have been late to the party after the re-launch in 2005, but once I got into it I was hooked. One of the reasons I love it so much is because the format of the show allows for a great deal of experimentation with storylines, different characters and even species, and you have the universe to explore.

And Doctor Who has exploited this premise to great effect for years. It has also resulted in a couple of great spin offs. I never got into the Sarah Jane Adventures, but I absolutely adore Torchwood. However, as much as I am part of the fan base, I’m not keen on everything. I’m quite willing to hold my hands up and admit there have been quite a few duff episodes over the years, and as much as I love Torchwood I’m only really keen on Series 1 and 2.

It’s been years since I saw Children of the Earth and Miracle Day. I’m going to have to try and sit and watch them again someday, but I disliked them so much when they first aired I get to the end of series 2 and find something else to watch. It’s been a while though, and Torchwood was all about pushing the boundaries of television. Shows like Game of Thrones have come around since, and you never know I might find I like Torchwood a lot more now.

But you know what, I really don’t mind that every now and then they don’t quite hit the mark. Doctor Who is one of the biggest and most creative forces in television; the premise of the show might be old and old villains and characters might come back every now and then, but Doctor Who is original and creative, something which I feel is desperately needed both in film and television.

The other think that I really loved about the show that I really miss is Doctor Who Confidential and Torchwood Declassified. These both showed the behind the scenes work that goes into making a high quality television show and I was absolutely devastated when they cancelled it. It taught people about all the different jobs that people have in television not just the usual acting, writing and directing. Considering the popularity of extra features showing the behind the scenes action on dvds I very much think the BBC missed a trick when they cancelled it.

The other reason I love Doctor Who though is because it inspires me. There’s not many shows out there that make me want to be a part of the show to the point that I begin thinking of ideas and stories of my own. I know most kids end up drawing pictures of monsters, I ended up writing a few scripts and I absolutely loved every moment of it. A Doctor Who script was the first script I ever wrote, and I now regularly return to the format to tell my stories.

From the moment the Doctor (my Doctor being David Tennant) ran around a spaceship where pockets of Madame de Pompadour’s France existed until this last Christmas when he arranged a proper date with River Song, Doctor Who has captured my imagination helped a lot by Captain Jack and his awesome coat.