You know that feeling you get in the cinema when you realise the film you're watching isn't everything you had hoped it would be? It's an uncomfortable feeling, in the pit of your stomach. You're not quite sure whether you want to continue watching the screen in front of you. If you do, it's going to turn out badly, you can feel the decline coming already, the moment where this movie loses you and you suddenly become acutely aware of your surroundings; there's a guy in front of you mindlessly crunching popcorn a little too loudly, the temperature is a couple of degrees out from where you want it to be and the chair beneath you has suddenly turned to the density of concrete. There the film is, playing out in front of you, dashing your expectations with a line or a few frames. And then it has lost you.
In the current movie marketing climate, films come with a high degree of expectation, particularly for blockbuster season and it is something that is cultivated fiercely by film-makers. J.J. Abrams is one such figure, using his now-famous mystery box to ramp up excitement and speculation for his films. He's also guilty of directing one of my biggest disappointments in recent years in Star Trek Into Darkness. Now, given that the film has largely received a positive reaction, I can't quite lay this sense of disappointment solely at the feet of the unholy trinity of Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof nor can I solely blame Abrams. I don't absolve them of responsibility completely as it is their work that forms the basis of my resentment, but I also acknowledge that I have my own part to play when it comes to this film and others that have not met my expectations.
Film as an art form will always be subjective; each audience member brings their own unique experience into the cinema with them, their own hopes for the film, their own ideas of how it should play out. As I said before, I went into STID with a very clear idea of what I wanted from it and it didn't deliver for a combination of reasons. I actively participated in the hype and speculation surrounding the Star Trek sequel; I devoured every piece of news I could find, I followed the ongoing developments, rumours, theories, straw-grasping and logic-defying conclusions that appeared online. I even came up with a few theories myself and actively selected the character that I wanted the villain to be (they totally should have gone for Gary Mitchell). I was already riding high on enthusiasm months before the film's release. In short, I was ready for a spectacular crash, which of course it turned out to be. I knew exactly when the film lost me. Though I must be fair to Abrams et.al, it happened a lot later than say, the nuclear bomb defying fridge. But how far are we all just actually victims to the afore-mentioned big movie marketing machine?
Abrams' mystery box is one of the worst culprits in this way; the speculation surrounding the movie villain has been going on for four years, pretty much since the sequel was announced. Marketing campaigns have become almost an event in themselves now with studios seizing upon the potential to capture audiences in a way that has rarely been seen before. The internet has helped hugely in this respect with trailers and news available almost instantaneously when it is released. One of the best is the campaign behind The Dark Knight which unleashed Heath Ledger's Joker on the world and slowly built up anticipation to the film's release, utilising the new trend for viral marketing. Teasing the audience in such a way as to introduce them slowly to the world of the film, rather than the film proper, has become the new way in which to capture your audiences, building in the anticipation a long way in advance.
With The Dark Knight, this was a huge success. It naturally helped that it was an excellent film. Of course, there also those campaigns that ramp up the anticipation without the film to follow it and my case in point is Prometheus. I reacted to Prometheus in a similar way to Star Trek Into Darkness; it was that same sinking feeling, that same sudden awareness that this was not going to end well for me and my expectations. Now Prometheus had an exhaustive marketing process, beginning with some really amazing viral videos before descending into trailer after trailer after trailer after trailer... Well, you get my drift. The viral videos however, were mini-triumphs, particularly Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland in his TED talk announcing his plans to colonise the stars. It was spine-tinglingly good. Once again though, the speculation, the awe-inspiring start and intense fan anticipation was not matched by the final product. That and the overwhelming amount of trailers just put people off.
But I think these disappointments are, in their own slightly torturous way, necessary to enhance our cinematic experience elsewhere. It's the lows that make the highs so good after all. Whether the film itself is objectively good or not, there is honestly nothing better for me than watching something in the cinema and having exactly the opposite reaction to the one I described in the opening paragraph. The moment you fall completely headlong into the movie in front of you, losing any awareness you have of the outside world. You don't care that the man in front is anti-socially crunching popcorn because you can't hear it, the temperature of the room doesn't matter because you're not there anymore, you're on the edge of your seat so it doesn't matter that it's not all that comfortable. It's quite simply the best feeling to be so surprised by what is unfolding in front of you, that everything else falls away.
Without the odd disappointment, slight or crushing, that feeling wouldn't be quite so special when it happens. You feel like you've just discovered the best kind of surprise, the one that no one saw coming and instead of feeling like someone wacked you over the head with a big plank of stupid, you feel elated, like you've discovered something really special. Last year, it was 21 Jump Street that shocked me in this way when I realised, halfway through the film, I was laughing like a drain and really enjoying myself. Iron Man 3 is the most recent movie to have taken me completely by surprise and I have to say, the marketing for that film is largely responsible for this. I knew I was looking forward to it, but I wasn't so intensely wrapped up in the speculation, precisely because I didn't think there was anything else to speculate about.
Though I wouldn't say that either of these films were under-marketed, they simply didn't play their hand too early in the advertising, particularly IM3. Likewise, a smaller hit like Cabin in the Woods benefitted from not revealing too much in the trailers beforehand - though of course this had to tread the fine line of not looking too derivative. Now there is of course the option to opt out of the marketing, to ignore whatever trailer is out there next and this is something that I do try to stick to. If I really want to go into a movie without knowing anything, as I did with Trance most recently, then I will simply avoid the marketing. It's tough but it is possible.
There are always going to be those films that grab your attention more than others for whatever reason. Star Trek got me because I loved what they did with the reboot and I'm a massive Trek fan, have been for years. I was always going to be fervently awaiting its release and I didn't temper my expectations until the very last minute when reports started appearing from people on Twitter whose opinions I value. Then again, would it have been the same if there hadn't been the general speculation cultivated by Abrams?
That feeling of surprised glee or creeping disappointment is always going to happen in certain films; it's inevitable that something will exceed or fail to meet your expectations as its the very nature of the beast when it comes to cinema. I just think that it is important to not get too swept up in those big blockbuster marketing campaigns that are designed to do just that, let you get carried away and book your ticket months in advance. It's a delicate balance that must be struck and I think, increasingly, it becomes the responsibility of the audience member to try and achieve that. After all, the marketing behemoths just want to get you into the cinema.
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Friday, 17 May 2013
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Last week's episode saw plenty of pairings defined by power and status whilst this week's takes a look at the romantic (ish) relationships that dominate the characters' and affect their motivations. Once again, the episode's title bears more than a little on the ongoing narrative (pun intended) as we see various pairs of mismatched couples defined by their gruffness or their beauty. Another slow-burning episode, we darted to various locations and caught up with all of the usual suspects, the difference being that this time George R.R. Martin is on script duties this week with Breaking Bad's Michelle McLaren in the director's chair.
Again exhibiting the leisurely pace we've come to expect from the last couple of Game of Thrones episodes, it didn't necessarily do The Bear and the Maiden Fair any favours. In fact, of all the episodes of this series, it was this one that felt most like filler, closing the gaps and further establishing the narrative direction for the characters in the rest of the season. Certain scenes were excellently put together, particularly Dany (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons taking on the emissary from Yunkaii which not only showcased the special effects work with the flying menaces, but also Dany's evolution from shrinking violet to the Silver Queen.
Other highlights including the weekly Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) dressing down of a member of his family and a development in the relationship between Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Talisa (Oona Chaplin), almost singlehandedly filling this week's episode quota of naked bottoms (yes, we appear to be in a clothes off week once again). The ongoing relationship between Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie) is perhaps afforded the most screen time. Their scenes together have steadily improved through the season and here, they have their funniest flirtatious conversations so far even as their relationship is undermined by their very different backgrounds. However, they were also punctuated by scenes that slowed the pace even further and served little purpose but to set up directions or remind us of issues gone by. Despite a stirling performance from Natalie Tena as Osha, the scene with Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) deciding to go after the raven was one such example. It seemed included just to let us know where Bran was off to and remind us all of the threat of the White Walkers. Another example was the return of Theon (Alfie Allen), tortured once again and now possibly missing an appendage. This was also the scene in which we saw more nudity. Because just one scene isn't enough. It served little purpose really, other than to check in with Theon's terrible, yet deserved, situation.
One of the episode's strongest points though was the editing and the way we moved through Westeros. Pairings separated by other characters were sort of brought back together; Arya (Maisie Williams) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) may have been torn apart from each other, but their scenes were connected, reminding us of their relationship whilst facing new challenges of their own. We also had pairings yet to be joined in matrimony; Sansa (Sophie Turner) mourns her impending marriage to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and in the very next scene, he does the same in turn with Bronn (a welcome return for Jerome Flynn). It's exemplary stuff and really works to provide a cohesive strand running through an episode which was marked by its internally episodic nature.
Then there were the final scenes which brought back the high quality and spark that seemed missing from a large part of the episode. I've spent a lot of these reviews going on about how much I love the pairing of Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendolyn Christie) and this week does nothing but make me love them more. Jaime, ever the dashing knight, rides back to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne from a situation in a rather literal interpretation of the episode's title. It's a fantastic sequence that cements just how much they have come to rely on each other and has a killer final line from Jaime. Just brilliant.
A mixed bag then this week as we head into the final three episodes of the season. The chess pieces are surely all in place now so let's hope that the pace picks up and we get some moments of sheer shout-at-the-television awesome.
You can read Becky's review of the previous episode, The Climb, here.
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Crime dramas are the series du jour at the moment with Broadchurch standing out as one of the biggest recent successes whilst quieter affairs like Assorted Buffery favourite Scott and Bailey continue to impress. The Fall then has a lot of work to do to stand out from an already packed genre. Thankfully, it seems to be doing so through its central quirk; we already know who the killer is. In fact, we spend just as much time with the killer as we do with the investigator, a neat twist which already establishes The Fall on solid ground.
Sent to review a murder investigation in Belfast, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) sees a pattern between two murders and believes there is a serial killer on the loose. However, her superiors have other ideas and urge her to just do the job she was sent to do. Elsewhere in the city, we are introduced to Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a psychologist, happily married with two adoring children and a nice family home. He also happens to be a serial killer with a penchant for tall brunettes who strikes again over the course of the episode, stalking his victim whilst taking his daughter for a walk in the park.
It is these central juxtapositions that make the first episode of The Fall an intriguing watch. First of all, the contrast of the hunter and the hunted is established in the opening scenes; both Gibson and Spector are seen going through the motions of their own routines, one in her own home, the other in someone else's. These scenes appear throughout the episode, tying the two characters together even if they don't realise it themselves yet. It also makes for an interesting dynamic as an audience member, employing a healthy dose of dramatic irony to produce a rather unsettling effect.
The rest of the episode was no less uncomfortable, particularly in the scenes with Paul as he goes about his two lives. Returning from stalking the house of his next victim, Paul comes home to find his young son waiting for him on the stairs, worried about where his father was gone. As shocks go, it was most extreme and unexpected, hammering home that this is a drama in which the domestic is every much linked to the criminality. Dornan's performance captures the two aspects well though with a hollow-eyed link between the two. He may smile with his kids, but it never goes to his eyes. I'll be interested to see if Paul manages to keep the two lives separate successfully because it already appears as if they're beginning to bleed into each other.
As for Gillian Anderson, it's a welcome return to investigation for her (though I do still expect Mulder to show up any second - it's just habit). Arguably given the harder task of playing the hero opposite an intriguing villain, Anderson gives a solid, if not showy performance, as Gibson and it is her scenes that provide a measure of security and comfort from the unsettling nature of Spector. It is also once again great to see a lead female role in such a drama, following on from the considerable performance of Olivia Colman in Broadchurch.
Though slow-burning, The Fall's central conceit of a 'whydunnit' as opposed to a 'who' makes this a compelling watch and I'll be interested to see whether it can maintain the uncomfortable atmosphere that it has established so well in the first instalment.
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The 2009 reboot of Star Trek was a massive hit, pleasing hardcore Trekkies, casual fans and complete novices alike. With its gimmick of re-setting the timeline of the original franchise, it distanced itself from the existing Star Trek whilst allowing the new group to move off in their own direction. It was an excellent jumping off point with a great cast in place and felt like a bright, shiny new world of Trek to explore. Star Trek Into Darkness therefore, should have had it made and does well to recapture some of the spark that made the reboot such a joy.
This is thanks in large part to the cast, once again excelling in iconic roles and not becoming overshadowed by those who went before. One aspect that the reboot franchise has got right from the start is the dynamic between the crew although they don't spend nearly enough time with each other. A real highlight is the interaction between Kirk, Spock and Karl Urban's metaphor-happy Bones, perfectly re-capturing the humour of the three characters' relationship. Other characters don't quite get the same chance to shine though Scotty (Simon Pegg) is given a little more to do than comic relief this time around. Zoe Saldana's Uhura gets a couple of big moments but it is poor Alice Eve who does her best with very little as Carol Marcus, including a completely unnecessary underwear scene.
The big focus has been on a certain Mr Cumberbatch in all his floppy-haired, swishy-coated glory and he cuts a fine figure, balancing the emotional aspects of John Harrison with the more scenery-chewing villainy that we were all expecting. However, the film is rather surprisingly stolen by Chris Pine who turns in a quieter, yet very affecting performance as the headstrong Kirk. It's largely a film about his journey and so the focus is on Kirk much more as he learns about all the facets of becoming a captain and its difficulties. Pine proves to be more than a worthy foil to Cumberbatch and their scenes together crackle with an energy that deserved more screentime.
It is a shame that the same attention to detail that has clearly been paid to the characters was not transferred to the film's plot. There are some big themes in there - exploration vs destruction, the necessity of revenge, terrorism, impending war - but it never feels as if Abrams et.al want to go into these in any detail beyond Kirk's character arc. Likewise, we get plenty of nods to the original series, but they become so frequent, I found myself rolling my eyes whenever one was needlessly inserted into a conversation.
Predictable right from the start, the storyline is telegraphed through various signifiers so twists come too soon and are seen a mile off and as a result, no real danger is felt. At no point in the entire film did I get the sense that the stakes were high or that the crew were in any real danger, lessening the impact of the action scenes somewhat. That is not to say the action scenes are dull, far from it in fact, as some sequences are spectacularly put together (even if one is recycled from the previous film) and the actors, particularly Cumberbatch, impress with their physicality.
Despite this predictability, the first three quarters of the film are wildly entertaining, amusing and thrilling in equal measure. However, this is completely undermined by the final act of the film. Whilst I won't reveal anything at all spoilery, the last thirty minutes sent me into a downward spiral of disappointment and frustration. This falls solely at the feet of screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damien Lindelof who wrap everything up in a conclusion that is not only forecasted from a long way off, but is incredibly lazy and so devoid of originality that it leaves a bitter taste. It's a frustrating shame because everything up until then had been a little flawed, but mostly entertaining. It took just one moment to pull me out of that completely.
Star Trek Into Darkness is proving to be quite divisive and sadly, I find myself on the negative side of the debate. The build-up to its release has been immense and rife with speculation, but the film plays its hand too early and provides an ending that is not at all satisfying.
** (and a half- mainly for Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Pine)
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Monday, 13 May 2013
When it comes to Doctor Who, it is not that often that an episode by an individual writer attracts a whole lot of attention in its own right, unless of course, it has been written by Neil Gaiman, one of the most imaginative and brilliant writers around at the moment. His first episode for Moffat's run, The Doctor's Wife, was extremely well received and so anticipation naturally grew for his return to the Eleventh Doctor with Nightmare in Silver. Especially since it came with the promise that it would also see a return of the Cybermen, retooled by Gaiman to terrorise the Doctor once again.
Speaking of the Cybermen, they have been one of a few Doctor Who Big Bads to have suffered from over-exposure in recent years, beginning with The Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel a few years back. There's also the problem that they don't quite carry the fear factor that, say, the Daleks still have or the Weeping Angels precisely because they are so clunky; signalling your arrival with a clank and a thud does tend to lessen the impact somewhat. Therefore, they were primed for a revival and with a dash of Iron Man and a pinch of the Borg, Nightmare in Silver brings back the metallic menace and makes them a worthy enemy once more.
The episode as a whole was one of the better instalments this series, though not quite reaching the heights of Hide, balancing an action-packed story with some excellent performances. Matt Smith is given a huge amount to do this time around, not only portraying the noble Doctor but also the Cyber-Planner or Mr Clever as he prefers to be called, a cyberman keen to take control of the biggest and best brain in the universe. The scenes in which we entered the Doctor's head were beautifully presented (and with welcome images of his previous incarnations) whilst Smith did well to maintain a separation between the two identities, despite the odd slip into pantomime dramatics. I also enjoyed the directional choices here; the warm oranges of the Doctor's half of the brain, contrasted with the cold blue hues of the Cyber-Planner and the profile shots to determine which side of the brain was in control.
The performance of the episode though belonged to Warwick Davis. This series has done well with giving the guest characters proper arcs across the episode (referring once again back to Hide, but also to last week's The Crimson Horror) and Nightmare in Silver continued the tradition with Davis' Porridge. Beginning the episode as a con-artist manipulating a chess game and ending it back in his rightful place as emperor, Davis filled the role with a world weariness that made him a compelling figure in the midst of the action.
The action itself, of which there is plenty, is as fast-paced and as frenetic as we've all come to expect from Doctor Who of late, but thankfully it isn't enough to complete alienate you. The refit of the Cybermen gives them an added menace and with some natty upgrades that stop them being defeated quite so easily. It also takes Who into some quite dark areas, particularly Porridge's speech about the destroyed galaxy and how he doesn't feel sorry for those who died, but for the man who pushed the button. Later, he faces the decision of blowing up an entire planet. In a time where most Who baddies are actually just misunderstood, it's refreshing to see an episode acknowledge that some are irredeemably evil and drastic measures must be taken to put a stop to it.
It wasn't all great though; the addition of the kids to the usual roster of TARDIS residents was not ideal and even though they proved to be little more than a plot point, they irritated me enough that I didn't care too much about their upgrades. We also didn't get to see as much of Clara this week and after the Victorian photograph revelation in the previous episode, it felt like a bit of a step back in her progression.
Next week promises it be packed full of stuff, with a glimpse of Richard E. Grant in the trailer for the finale, The Name of the Doctor. Watch out for Jen's review.
You can read Jen's review of the previous episode, The Crimson Horror, here.
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Sunday, 12 May 2013
Last week, in my review of the penultimate episode of The Village, I wrote that it had begun to seem like the show was going somewhere, that there was a point to the endless misery and bleak outlook. Fortunately, it seems I was right to have faith.
Having jumped forward in time, the final episode is set in what is now 1920. War is over, and the villagers are dealing with the aftermath, discussing the building of a memorial to their dead. Naturally, this leads to several disagreements, namely whether or not to include Joe Middleton’s name, as his ill-timed shell shock meant he was shot at dawn for cowardice. Bert (Alfie Stewart) now a teenager, has continued in the role of photographer entrusted to him by teacher Gerard Eyre (Matt Stokoe). Happily, the latter has returned to the village having been imprisoned rather than executed for refusing enlistment, although his psychological state has been considerably damaged by the experience.
Meanwhile, Lady Clem (Juliet Stevenson), continuing to go from strength to strength, stands against creepy Doctor Wylie (Jonny Phillips) and his intentions with Caro (Emily Beecham) and Grace (Maxine Peake) makes her views clear on Joe’s exclusion, as well as on grief as a collective consciousness at a village meeting. Poor George (Augustus Prew), my favourite, considerably more subdued after his time at war, is later dumped by goody-two shoes Martha (Charlie Murphy), who admits she does not love him, having always been in love with Joe. Needless to say I shouted at the screen at that point. Finally, a bout of influenza, leading to quarantine, does nothing to lift spirits, and leads the memorial service in jeopardy.
Fantastically well-paced and carried out with a hefty helping of class, this series finale certainly packed one hell of an emotional punch. Thrilled as we were (well, I certainly was) that Mr Eyre returned safely to the village, we were no sooner allowed to enjoy this than we had to endure his being humiliated by weedy, hateful fellow teacher Crispin Ingham (Stephen Walters) in the classroom. It was also difficult to work out why Eyre had escaped with a prison sentence for being a shirker where poor Joe Middleton, having already given years of his life to the war effort, was executed for refusing to return. This certainly goes some of the way to explaining why the reformed John Middleton (John Simm) is so hostile towards Eyre. There were, however, several touching moments between father and his sons, both dead and living, as the family come to terms with Joe’s death, and John notices that Bert has photos of the entire village, apart from his father.
The real highlights of the episode though, well and truly belonged to Lady Clem and Grace- clever parallels having been drawn between the two all series. As one lost her husband to suicide, and the other to religious fanaticism, both grew steadily stronger, tougher and far happier to express their opinions. This came to a head in the finale, with the revelation, for both, that they share a grandchild, as Joe was the father of Caro’s baby. Maxine Peake was fantastic as the grieving Grace, embittered and betrayed by the state whilst still desperately fighting for her rights as a working woman. The town meeting scene, in particular, saw Peake excel. Juliet Stevenson’s Lady Clem had some absolutely corking lines which not only showed the intensity of her character developed, but summed up the mood of the hour perfectly. The poignant ‘Time to change’, when choosing a different dress stood out in particular.
This was a classy, beautifully produced end to what has been, at times, rather a hard going series to watch. This last hour of brilliantly well-executed television made it oh so very worth it.
I do hope it returns for a second series, so it can do such a fabulous job of making us miserable all over again.
Friday, 10 May 2013
There’s been a definite trend of late towards reviving classic films for the stage, usually in Musical Theatre form. We’ve had The Bodyguard, Ghost, Dirty Dancing and even Billy Elliot. But now classic soul movie The Commitments is getting in on the act.
Directed by Trafalgar Studios favourite Jamie Lloyd, the production will tell the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a young working class music fan, who shapes an unlikely bunch of amateur musicians and friends into an amazing live act, the finest soul band Dublin has ever produced. The show follows the journey of two members of a frustrated synthesizer band – the opening scene we find them playing but being ignored in a shop window – who turn to Jimmy, the local music expert, for help.
For more info, you can visit the show’s Facebook pagehere
Or follow them on Twitter here