25 September, 2011

Penultimate Musings (Doctor Who - Closing Time)


Gareth Roberts' episode of Doctor Who is the penultimate of this series, and was a much calmer approach to the end of a series than the previous five. Stunningly directed, and a better episode than Roberts' previous credits The Unicorn and the Wasp and The Shakespeare Code, Closing Time was a continuation of The Lodger, but managed to fit in perfectly to this season's theme of The Doctor's death. The one problem with this story were the villains, the Cybermen.


The episode was a fun one. Smith played his Doctor perfectly, and Corden shone again as Craig, the instantly likeable flatmate. Highlights of dialogue were the Doctor's dig at Britain's Got Talent, 'and then there's that silver rat thing' and all the Stormageddon stuff. The eerie tone of the music, direction and harsh lights of a department store lent themselves well to the episode; I can't help but feel that maybe the episode would have been well suited to Christmas, with the shopping rush on, and people going missing all over the place.

I thought the story allowed The Doctor to meditate on his own situation/impending death, whilst exploring humanity in its greatest of forms and looking to the future for baby Alfie. The episode was excellently placed between last week and the finale where the Doctor is believed to die. Craig says 'you always win, you always survive!' and puts a different perspective to the Doctor's 'I put everyone in danger' argument about companions from last week. Most interestingly, Craig and the Doctor seem to have a mates-relationship, not a companion-Doctor one.
The wealth of family life and even the 'Doctor-Craig-Partners' joke showed the diversity and brilliance of the human life that the Doctor has not been part of, and will soon leave. Craig's 'I can't cope' is a typical family worry and, again, showed humanity. During the Doctor's chat with Alfie, he speaks on humanity at ease, and, in his final day, manages to fit in with them brilliantly, rather than be an outcast. His line about 'a nagging sense of spiritual emptiness' hits home perfectly, and his 'save the tears for later, boy-o' was incredibly touching and moving. Although the Doctor can't die (can he?), he says 'I gave it one hundred and ten percent', the past tense hitting home, even if this plot is a little reminiscent of Tennant's final episodes.


The only problem I had with this episode was the use of the Cybermen. They were timid, defeatable, and reduced to exploding at ''love'' - a rather hackneyed plot device to 'the Harry Potter generation'. In contrast, I did feel a threat to Craig when he was captured by the 'metal morons' - even feeling that perhaps this was a little far for BBC1 on a Saturday night, but ultimately Craig was saved, and the entire spaceship could just be blown up like that. Using an iconic villain is only acceptable when they are a true threat, or else they will be reduced to nothing, and reduce the series' value.


Ultimately a very good episode, which even, perhaps, could have done without the Cybermen. The ending scene was an excellent lead into next week (I think we all knew that would happen) and has made me exceedingly excited to see how the Doctor's death is avoided, or if maybe, in a brave move, it will still happen. The Greg James cameo and the useless villain I could have done without, but ultimately, a strong and moving episode, almost entirely on the Doctor's personality - one of the more interesting aspects of the series.


NB However, I do not believe for one moment that Amelia Pond would release a perfume. Perfumes are only released and promoted by famous people - has Amy sold her story and made money on the back of her adventures? Very interesting, or lazy characterisation.

23 September, 2011

Awkwardness At Its Best (Fresh Meat, Channel 4)


Channel 4's Fresh Meat is their new university-based situation comedy, which started on Wednesday with the group being placed in a house-share and beginning their freshers week. After the failure and subsequent axing of Campus (which I personally loved) earlier this year, it was a risky business to bring this to commission. However, following generally good reviews, it seems Channel 4 may have found a new comedy series which could continue for a while.

An initially patchy first episode (the drying of Peking Duck with a hairdryer without wearing trousers) transformed into a fast-paced, intensely awkward and even heart-felt episode. Whilst Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners) seems to have a knack of playing awkward, besotted characters, he separated himself well, in my opinion, from his Inbetweeners stereotype with the character of Kingsley; he has separated himself from acting merely as Simon-gone-to-uni. His love interest, Josie, is shy and awkward - Kimberley Nixon acts perfectly during the touching scenes between her and Kingsley's rooms. Oregon, played by Charlotte Ritchie, showed a Jessica Hynes-style of awkwardness, and a desire to please and conform with the housemates, particularly Vod. Played by Zawe Ashton, Vod performed perfectly as a cheating person, without a clue as to how she makes others feel. Howard, I feel, is a bit too weird and unlikeable to be 'one of the house', but is truly cringeworthy and a person you definitely watch and feel happy that you do not live with - fair play Greg McHugh.


The last of the Six, played by Jack Whitehall, is JP. I had myself laughing hysterically at his speech, made up of cliches and middle-class bantering, hardly any of which made sense. His phonecall to his friend after sex with Josie was toe-curlingly awful, as were most of his scenes in the episode. Whilst Whitehall is not a natural actor, he has done well to create this persona, and continue it perfectly without slipping into his stand-up routine.

Two personal highlights of the episode. Firstly, the tea-drinking scene, where everything Kingsley said made him facepalm and you could see the desperation of the bunch attempting to please one another into friendship. Whilst shockingly poor small-talk, I think everyone watching can remember a time that a group of people had been this awkward. Secondly, the JP-Josie sex scene (the sheet fiasco) was a perfectly comic, perfectly timed scene, all the time made more brilliant by JP's phrases and cliche.


With social awkwardness down to a T, the writers (creators of Peep Show), have done excellently to portray the awkwardness of Uni pressure and introduction on screen so well. Lines such as 'she was my sorbet... she cleansed my palate' are hilarious, and I can only see JP getting funnier as the series progresses. Exceptionally well acted by all involved and well scheduled to coincide with 'real-life' Freshers, I think Fresh Meat could become a modern classic.

All That is Wrong with Waterloo Road - Round #2

More crap:


1. The 'young lovers who won't stay together buying a flat they can't afford' has been done before - the Chlo/Donte story anyone? Similarly, we've already seen Ronan get angry at Vicki's university ambitions, and have their relationship hold her back. Maybe after six series, the scriptwriters just can't come up with anything new?


2. The entire concept of GCSE/AS/A-levels being ''chosen'' in the way they showed was abysmal - noone casually picks up an A-level in the middle of their course. If you're going to set a show in a school, make it believable and do not alienate the people (teachers, pupils) who do this on a daily basis, who should appreciate the series. The creators, Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwick, used to work in schools, so I have no idea why they've suddenly forgotten how school works.


3. Matt Wilding is still not a music teacher. Kids, wondering why he can't create an orchestra or distribute instruments properly? It's because HE'S A TRAINED DRAMA TEACHER.


4. Of course, it wouldn't be Waterloo Road without Tom potentially shagging a new female teacher. Or with the head having an affair with the deputy. Because, obviously, this happens in every school.


5. It is not possible, at any school, in any country, ANYWHERE, to have children just join the school for 'a few days'. Get practical.


Highlight of the episode was Daniel Chalk playing a Nintendo DS in the staffroom. Almost made up for the poor writing and continuity. Almost.

18 September, 2011

Doctor Who Update (The Girl Who Waited & The God Complex)


            Two traditional, and scary, episodes of Doctor Who these past two weeks, in which the show has returned to a more basic formula, and an arguably better one. Hopefully, these stories are setting the scene for a series finale like themselves, full of witty dialogue, scary monsters and with Amy, Rory and the Doctor at its core.


            The Girl Who Waited was the doctor-lite episode of this series, but was no less because of this. In a stark quarantine, the three characters are given focus over everything, and the quarantine/timestreams, the basis of the story, was not explored, leaving the space for beautiful dialogue - 'that's the first time I've laughed in thirty-six years' and a tremendous amount of exploration into the Rory/Amy relationship. For the first time this mini-series, I cared about death and danger and the emotions of older-Amy and of Rory meeting her were true-to humanity, and back to what Doctor Who does best - displays humanity back at us. Although older-Amy's makeup was dubious at best, the episode built nicely to an end I think we were all expecting, but no less shocking - the Doctor's lie really hits home just how dark a character he is. Whereby Rory had Robot Rory and Amy had older-Amy in this story, the Doctor could be similar to the interface, in that he is 'God' over his companions, his character leading us nicely to 'The God Complex'.


            Toby Whitehouse presented us with a claustrophobia of fears, minotaurs and corridors in this week's episode, with the idea of 'your room' a sort of basic 'Room 101' from
1984 allowing a set-up to the Doctor's leaving of Amy and Rory by the end of the episode. Compounding last week's emotional rollercoaster, I thought Rita was a good foil to Amy, and the Doctor's reaction to her death - throwing things around the kitchen - felt so true to his character, that it did make his decision believable in a way that has not, in my opinion, been managed before. When Martha left the Tardis, it was a sort of forced end-of-series ending; it seems brave to leave the Doctor alone on episode ten. The houses and car Amy was left at were colourful, cartoony, exactly the sort of whimsical design intrinsic to this Doctor Who, and though Rory conversed with the Doctor during the episode and briefly about the car, it seemed again like a demotion for him to be inside whilst Amy said the 'proper' goodbyes. His insistence that Amy had 'too much' faith in him was heartbreaking, as was her acceptance, her letting go.

            Two fantastic episodes leaving us into the end of the series, with next week's looking super, hopefully continuing the trend. With Amy and Rory gone, it is unclear how the next episodes will play out - will the Doctor's room come into play, or will we finally learn about his ''death''. My opinion of Moffat swings between 'we don't know enough!' to 'so much suspense this is WONDERFUL' - at present, Moffat is a genius in my eyes. Kudos also to Whithouse and Macrae for two amazing scripts, but Moffat and the team really have brought things together spectacularly in recent weeks.



17 September, 2011

All that is Wrong with Waterloo Road - Round #1


So we all know Waterloo Road has become possibly the least well-made programme on television, so let's just highlight SOME of the errors in the most recent episode. (no review necessary)


1.  Last episode on television, Karen Fisher was to fight the ban on her school and there was cheering from the rooftops for her. Suddenly now she's gone and nobody gives. Similarly, Ruby Fry, where are you!?


2. 'Oh hi Sian' 'oh hello Jeremy' EXPOSITION DIALOGUE IS BAD WRITING.


3. Erm sorry this is on at 7.30 and the basic plot is a boy burying his nan in the garden? Acceptable? Debatable.


4. Replacing half the cast and expecting us to all hit it off is ridiculous - especially when one look in the staff room lets us know the entire back history of Sian and the Head being 'an item'.


5. Almost 100% certain that Matt Wilding used to be a drama teacher, not a music teacher. Quite different disciplines really and/or LEARN WHAT CONTINUITY MEANS.


6. Scout walks into Tom's lesson - he finishes taking the register and then the bell goes. Shortest lesson ever.


7. As if a head who had just been stabbed by a group of ''youths'' (ironic speech marks) would make someone I presume to be one of the 'group on the bridge' a Prefect. Say whaaaat.


See you next week for more hilarity

14 September, 2011

I'VE LOST MY GLASSES (The Inbetweeners Movie)


            
The Inbetweeners Movie is fantastic. At first, I admit it drags a bit - noone knows if the show will translate well to film, and even the characters themselves seem nervous. The opening scenes set in suburbia are visually dull too, but once they arrive on holiday, the film kicks into a hilarious rhythm of shame and humiliation.

            The plot was just like something from an episode, and managed to give equal screentime to the four lads, whilst keeping the pace up. Highlights include scenes of them all dancing over to girls, 'Burnley can fuck off' and Will's sequence with no glasses
.

            What other films fail to achieve was achieved here - the passing of time, and the end of youth were explored beautifully - scenes of heartfelt dialogue between Neil and Will, and Simon and Jay, were believable, subtle and true-to-life. Similarly, the visuals and focus of the bright lights and dark nights in this film achieved this quirky mix of adult themes and childhood which similar comedy films would not have cared about. This coherence of visuals throughout the film made it very focused, and very streamlined.

            The extra characters were well-chosen, the four girls were excellently paired (if Lucy was a little easy to tread on), and Carly continued to be an excellent foil to Simon's happiness - I think by the end of the movie, we see that she has run her course in Simon's life, if, as we hear on an almost daily basis, that more movies are planned.

            See this movie - it is comedy at its best, with other ideas and arguably stunning visuals. Good comedy, easy to watch and consistently laugh-out-loud funny.



11 September, 2011

STOP CYCLING PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET OFF YOUR BIKE (One Day film, 2011)


            I really wanted to like this film. I really, really did. The book is one of my all-time favourites, and possibly the one book that truly feels like a real life happening contained within its pages. Bringing this beloved couple to life would obviously be a challenge, but with such a strong source material, Nicholls' own source mtaterial, I thought he would have done a better job.


            The trailers didn't rile me like it did so many others. Hathaway's casting didn't rile me. Being such a big fan of Nicholls, I reserved all judgement until I sat in the cinema screen this afternoon. Despite strong focus and effort, I couldn't like the first half an hour of the film, and already began to consign the film to the 'bad adaptation' pile.

            The acting - superb. Sturgess blew me away with his take on Dexter, though I thought the script seemed to be changed to mellow him out for a cinema audience - there was no real evidence of drink-driving when he visited his parents, no real danger as he looked after the baby, and a very narrow and brief exposition of his 'downfall' into drugs and booze. Rafe Spall and Patricia Clarkson were fantastic in their respective roles, and played each of their parts just right. Now Hathaway, I do admire as an actress. In everything I have seen her in, she has blown me away - despite 'Love and Other Drugs' being an apalling film, she shone, and made me feel real sympathy for her. Now here, her acting was spot on. Underplayed, subtle, funny and strong, she nailed it. However, there is something about her face which doesn't strike me as Emma Morley. She is just Much. Too. Pretty. And the accent really was dreadful - northern at the best of times, faux-British at average and slightly American at its worst.

            The settings were changed to suggest some kind of British/France companionship or blanket travel-ban - what happened to Greece, the maze at the wedding, and what happened to Dexter's proper gap year? (On this note, what happened to Dexter's letter? Perhaps the most perceptive and likely happenings in the book?) The settings became drab and dull, save for Edinburgh and its fairy lights, and Dexter's store at the end, full of bright and fresh produce.


            In the book, the chapter sequence is interesting, notable, but not isolating, because we hear interior thoughts and summaries of the year. Not only were the first few years in the film given about a minute each of screen-time, but the entire film felt like a best-of compilation of Dexter and Emma's lives. Whilst I appreciated the few lines which were left in from the book, there was not enough substance in the words to truly allow us to emote with the characters, particularly Dexter, who was unlikeable throughout the entire first half of the film. Whilst I do not put this down to Nicholl's failings as a screenwriter, Scherfig (the director) should have recognised this fault, seeing as it is arguably Mulligan's characters endearment to the audience which made 'An Education' so popular.

            Another issue (can you tell I didn't like it?) was that lines of dialogue seemed to be taken from the book without thinking of their place in the film. 'Isn't Suki loud?' didn't make sense in the context of a film version who was, really, a wallflower, and the pregnancy line from Dexter seemed to come out of nowhere. It seems lines were taken for their poignancy or comic value, before distinguishing book from film. On that note, I think there could have been a few more 'non-book' lines, for the audience who were familiar with the source material, it looked like a radio-play reading of the book. And this WAS Nicholl's fault.
*spoilers*

            I did, however, enjoy the last part of the film. It has been said that Emma should have died a death which was not her fault (she could have looked for the truck), but the kind of suddenness and shocking nature of LIFE was, I thought well exhibited. Their first St Swithins Day at graduation was well-filmed, well-acted and quite beautiful really, as was Ian and Dex's confrontation. It was however a shame that Dex's scene with his daughter had odd dialogue and a child with earphones in 'You know what you are' was more sinister than supportive, as was removing his hand from her lap in the car. Emma's 'wake up' being played over Dex's face on the screen made the entire thing feel like a dream, cheapening the film and story, in my opinion. If planned out, this was an ill-conceived and unsupported idea, and if noone in editing noticed the possibility of how it would look, then they need to be out of a job.
*spoilers*


            In all, a poor adaptation and mediocre film by a team who should have known better. It is possible, and likely, that the film format just does not suit the complexities of character found in Nicholl's book, of which the depth of interior feelings and monologues makes the characters your real-life friends. At best, Hathaway and Sturgess are a fun way to spend two hours - hardly a film which I would come back to.
            

07 September, 2011

Superb Pop Emotion (Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia. Hideout Records)


            Wikipedia reliably informs me that this is Wolf's fifth album. I didn't get into him until now; he always seemed to be an odd pop cult. However, after hearing The City, I borrowed the album from a friend. The City is an anthemic love song, which in a way is indicative of the album, but in another sense is much more ostentatiously pop-y than the other songs.

            Slow, understated and calm would be how I would describe the rest of the album. Wolf has a gift for using powerful words, addictive melodies, and about fifteen instruments per song. Songs such as 'The Falcons', 'Together' and 'Bermondsey Street' are anthemic and uplifting, and note that the album is a brilliant set of car songs. A voice that is stunning, powerful but subtle, Wolf seems to have found his sound. Listening back to his previous singles on Youtube, this seems to be the sort of music I would plead with him to make.

            I managed to see him live by chance at Reading Festival 2011, between two bands I was watching, and he is definitely a true showman. It is fantastic to see the production behind the songs, all of the instruments and band which build up to the crescendo of sound on each song. Often, having to recreate such a sound live can spoil the original recording, but Wolf manages to make both sound incredible. Highlights included 'Time of My Life' live, and 'Bermondsey Street' , which started with an acoustic rendition, which left two of my friends in tears. However, this isn't on the bbc3 highlight coverage, so that brilliant performance may have to remain a distant memory.

            In all, listen to the album, it packs a powerful punch of REAL MUSIC, and if you can, see Wolf live because he really is bloody good. A little more openness with the crowd wouldn't go amiss, but you've got to admire how he puts on a show of mystery - probably why his fans are, like I said above, a sort of cult.

The boy can certainly play a lot of instruments - **** (out of 5)

06 September, 2011

Literally Terrifying (Doctor Who - Night Terrors ep. 6.9)


            Let me start by saying that this was one of the most TERRIFYING episodes of Who yet. The pre-credits (is that what we call the bit before the titles?) were brilliant. Exciting, chilling and for the first time in many series, a use of a 'Doctor' joke which was not shoe-horned into the script. The setting of this episode also helped create a feeling of unease, unlike all the science-y or pirate-y settings of this series. The shots of the tower block were claustrophobic, taking up the whole scene, and the harsh light and chunky, substantial looking flats got a perfect mix of realism and childhood fantasy.


            Moffat has done much to regenerate the 'scary' aspect of Doctor Who which arguably had been lost with Russell T Davies, until Moffat's episodes such as 'Blink' reversed the trend. The dolls were classic stuff of childhood nightmares, and the 'dolls house' became a terrifying representation of the little boy's fears. Alot of the movements were fluid and cartoon-like - the granny being pulled into the rubbish sacks, and Alex and the Doctor being dragged into the cupboard - which added to the childlike sense of wonder at the world, compounding a child's sense of fear at the unknown.
            
Razor-sharp dialogue between Alex (played beautifully by Daniel Mays) and the Doctor livened up what were otherwise heavy, heavy scenes, and it is again wonderful to see a writer's ability to flesh out a character or family within few scenes in a fourty-five minute episode.

           My issues with the episode again rested with treatment of death, and what seems to be irrational and unplanned character motivations. Amy died AGAIN, suddenly, and was then reversed back to her human self by the end of the episode; I found myself not even caring as the doll got her, as it is expected that she will always turn out ay-ok. Rory's reaction to this death was half-hearted - I'm pretty sure more would have been made of his wife's demise. Similarly, Amy does not seem to be motivated by a need to find her child or protect her. In comparison to Gwen in Torchwood: Miracle Day, who has recently stopped at no lengths to save her child, Amy seems quite happy to still not know the location of Melody. This is unexplained and unbelievable and sloppy convenience writing at the palm of the scriptwriter.


            Apart from similar minor discontentment - the boy is never explained to have become fully human/Alex's son, and the resolution (pleading with a child to ''believe'') seemed familiar, Doctor-Who-by-numbers - the episode was well produced and chilling. 'Night Terrors' is exactly the sort of episode the audience could hope for - fun, visually impressive and intelligent stuff.

A Good Old Romp Through Time And Space Kind Of (Doctor Who ep 6.8)


So Doctor Who returned this (well, last) week for the continuation of it's series-six run of thirteen episodes. Following on from the cliffhanger of episode seven, we are thrown right back into the action, still without a clue as to what the hell is going on.
            The highlight of this episode was the Rory-Amy-Mels montage, in which we see Rory and Amy's realisation of their relationship, and learn in a fantastic twist that their daughter has grown up with her parents as a sort of consolation prize for their current situation without child. 'I've seen you practically every day. Name one girl you've paid the slightest bit of attention to' was one of the best lines of this, if not all DW series and was one of the perceptive, intensely human moments that Moffat's Who does so well. Similarly, Riversong's line about a disabled Bar Mitzvah in the face of Nazi rule in Berlin was laugh-out-loud funny. Whilst I have never truly felt endeared to River Song, the end of the episode was heart-warming, and maybe the fact that she is to kill the Doctor is the reason why Moffat has never made her an intensely likeable character? Whilst I did think the episode an enjoyable period-hopping episode, there was just too much wrong to be fully immersed in the action.
            Firstly, death means nothing in this show; Amy, Rory and the Doctor seem to die in almost every episode, and I struggle on a weekly basis to ever feel that the three are in danger. Whilst I hope achingly that this will bear meaning later, and is a passing phase as part of Moffat's 'master-plan', I don't know if it is. But if I see one more parting speech between Rory and Amy, I may complain to Ofcom.
            Where the f*** was Hitler? The concept was timey-wimey fantastic, the episode was named after him and his unveiling was grand and sinister. But once locked in the cupboard for some laughs, we don't see him again. WHY?
            The technology 'miniature people in a shape-shifting robot' was taken for granted, and unexplored. The graphics were fantastic, but the concept was too complex a science to be accepted by the viewer without further analysis - it is not a possible science, but into the realms of magic. I would have liked to have seen a morality/justice issue from the workers for what they were doing. Also, no jellyfish.
             I am still in the 'loving not knowing anything' phase of Moffat's era, but there is beginning to be too many layers to the Doctor's death plot, and too much 'the Doctor always lies' for what remains a CHILDREN'S show. Whilst I wholeheartedly admire Moffat's skill, intelligence and ability, there is a little too much to be getting on with, and the plot rarely advances into these issues without adding more. Just how Timelord is Melody? She ages naturally with Rory and Amy? The Doctor knows he will die but Rory and Amy don't know that he knows? There is still a secret about Amy? THIS IS ALL TOO MUCH.
            On the whole, an enjoyable effort, with too many over-arching problems with the series for this to be a good episode - make death important, explain things, and use Hitler more. Thanks.