Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Day of the Doctor (2013)

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OK, so its not a ‘true’ feature film, but I did see it at the cinema, and in 3D.  And as a lifelong Whovian I’m going to write about it – so there!    Note that if you haven’t seen it yet, this contains spoilers, sweetie.

The Day of the Doctor is of course (if you happened to miss the subtle and subliminal marketing by the BBC) the 50th anniversary of the world’s favourite Gallifreyan, watched – allegedly – by 50 million people around the world on Saturday night.

After a rather silly opening with the Tardis helicoptered into Trafalger Square, the story settles down into a clever Stephen Moffat-penned tale of the last days of the Time War, when the Doctor single-handedly wiped out (or maybe wipes out – time is so tricksy) both his own race of Time Lords and the Daleks.  Matt Smith’s Doctor teams up again with U.N.I.T.,  where nepotism is clearly alive and well:  it is headed up by the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and supported by a technical advisor (“nice scarf”) called Osgood, presumably the daughter of the technical officer Sergeant Osgood in the Pertwee era.  

In a clever, if a bit irritating, side story the Earth is being invaded (naturally) by Zygons – suckery-wuckery shape-shifting creatures that have been hiding in 3D paintings since the 16th century in order to colonise Earth when it becomes ‘more interesting’.   How the creatures are meant to take over Earth, unless they have otherwise hidden remarkable capabilities to massively reproduce themselves, is not clear.  The Zygons are the archetypal ‘actor in a rubber suit’ which at first I found disappointing but – in retrospect – is a nice tribute to the slightly dodgy special effects of the original series.  

Within the main narrative, the ‘War Doctor’, played superbly by John Hurt, is challenged by the ultimate weapon he intends to use to end the war – a sentient being that won’t let you hit the ‘big red button’ until you’ve really had a chance to think it through:  possibly uncomfortable viewing for Tony Blair?  The interface to the device takes the form of Billie Piper – someone from his past (“…or Future? – I always get those two mixed up”) – that does the conscience checking.   Not Rose Tyler – but “Bad Wolf”, which is a great touch.  “The interface is hot” says Hurt, touching the box.  “Well, I do my best” purrs Piper, looking far sexier than any Weapon of Mass Destruction has a right to look.   

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Hurt’s Doctor’s penance for his act of violence is to be the sole survivor.  In a familiar “Ghost of Christmas Future” storyline, Hurt is projected into Elizabethan England to be reunited (wrong word) with his two future selves, in the shape of Matt Smith and David Tennant and allowed to see what psychological damage his decision has caused.  It is just a shame that Christopher Ecclestone – presumably the most damaged of the three – couldn’t be persuaded to join the party… an opportunity missed.   But Hurt, Tennant and Smith bouncing off each other is a real delight, providing fantastic comedic moments.   

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A recurring motif in the episode is that you can solve any problem if you think about it for long enough.   As the first example, a problem programmed into Hurt’s sonic screwdriver is resolved 400 years later in Smith’s version.   Rumour has it that Matt Smith’s screwdriver said “42” only because William Hartnell gave it a knotty problem to solve 50 years ago!   (A tribute there to Douglas Adams – yes, a Doctor Who scriptwriter/editor in the Tom Baker years).  

The finale sees all twelve Doctors (“no – thirteen”) converge on Gallifrey to, if not save the day, defer it.  This reveal of the thirteenth Doctor, in the shape of Peter Capaldi, was brilliant – just the eyes and those eyebrows glaring out of the screen.  It is just a tragedy that the BBC chose to “announce” Capaldi as they did a few weeks ago – – keeping it a secret until those eyes appeared would have been a just brilliant reveal to the fan-base.  

A particular delight was seeing Hurt regenerate into the essence – just the eyes – of Ecclestone.

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And this was after the brilliant bit of viral marketing – “The Night of the Doctor” – where Paul McGann returned briefly in a mini-episode to regenerate into John Hurt.   A nice closure, given that you had now seen every regeneration.  

To top it all, the appearance of Tom Baker in the final scene was very touching.  Its just a shame that jelly babies were not somehow involved – I suspect they must be in a deleted scene somewhere.  

The episode is not without a few gripes.  The Elizabethan segment features a hyper-annoying Elizabeth I (Joanna Page) who sides with the Zygons (under-cover?) for no readily apparent reason.  And after the – granted spectacular – reveal of Hurt at the end of “The Name of the Doctor”  there is absolutely no explanation of how the Doctor and Clara Oswald escaped the time stream, apparently without any consequence.   While we’re on the subject of Clara, whilst Jenna Coleman is suitably decorous (reminder to self that I have a daughter older than her), she doesn’t actually get to “do” very much in the episode.  I guess she is the catalyst for a final change of heart, but is not a very dynamic presence in the episode.  

Whilst not a fan of 3D, the effect in this episode – at least on the cinema screen – are very effective, especially in regards to the 3D painting of Gallifrey.  So a great effort that is (I think) entertaining to all and a grin-fest from start to finish for Who fans.  

Fad Rating (General): FFFf

Fad Rating (Who Fans): FFFFf.   

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Philomena (2013)

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Philomena is a delight.  You can truly tell that the summer blockbuster fan-boy films are all spent and we are seriously into Oscar nomination territory.  

Based on a true storm, Philomena tells the harrowing true-life story of a teenage Irish girl up the duff with child and assigned in disgrace to the ‘care’ of Nuns in a local nunnery come workhouse come prison.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, the children are sold off at £1,000 a piece to childless couples, with this being seen by the nuns as a just penance for the sins of the hapless teens.   The roller-coaster story tells the story of down-on-his-luck journalist Martin Sixsmith (“News at ten”… “No, actually it was the BBC”) picking up this human interest story and attempting to track down Philomena’s long lost child.  

Stephen Frears (Mrs Henderson Presents, The Queen) directs his cast brilliant.  Whilst the story is sad and sometimes shocking in places, the touches of humour throughout never make this film the true trauma that it could have been:  the dire warnings of tissues being required were (at least from the sample of this four cinemagoers) never close to being required.  The nearest you get to tearing up is when Alexandre Desplat – fast becoming one of my favourite composers after The Kings Speech and Harry Potter films – strikes up his haunting theme to old video clips of the growing Anthony/Michael.

Judi Dench is on top form – and surely has another Oscar nomination in train for her performance as Philomena. 

But the real surprise here is Steve Coogan.  As well as producing the film and co-writing the screenplay, his Martin Sixsmith is beautifully observed, and such a massive departure from his Partridge: Alpha Papa performance that you question if it is the same guy.   The scene where he realises he has actually met Michael is perfect:  his desperate attempts at total recall to Philomena who excitedly needs to know the details illustrates to the viewer the number of people that float in and out of your life without you ever actually ‘meeting’ them.

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I’m late in the game with this review, but if you can still get the chance to catch this film at the cinema, do so – you won’t be disappointed.

Fad Rating:  FFFFf.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Gravity (2013)

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Excuse the pun, but this film is going to pull a lot of weight in the technical categories at the Oscars next year.  It is a breathtaking piece of filmmaking, reportedly 8 years in the making and the brainchild of Alfonso Cuarón  (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and his son Jonás Cuarón.

The film has an extremely limited cast comprising ostensibly of George Clooney, as the seasoned NASA veteran on a last shuttle mission and out to beat his personal spacewalk record, and relative rookie Sandra Bullock. 

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About the only other speaking parts in the movie are the voice of mission control in Houston (a nice touch, using Ed Harris who played Gene Kranz, the waistcoated mission controller in Apollo 13) and a fellow spacewalker (can’t remember his name… let’s just call him “Mr Polo”).

Due to a satellite disaster of biblical – but believable – proportions caused by a stray Russian missile, the routine mission is not just put into mortal peril, but recurring mortal peril – every 90 minutes that you can set your watch by.   Who lives?  Who dies?  Who cares?  Well, actually, you do since although you know this is a display of special effects at their finest, the tension is effectively built up, and constantly jolts you every so often.  Who would have thought that some escaping air from the opening of an airlock would make you jump with alarm – – not once, but twice!

Space special effects are pretty easy to produce.  After all, I’m the guy who parodied 2001: A Space Odyssey with a dog biscuit and a space station dog!  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G32hHFqO_nM).  But even I have to admit that for a large percentage of this film my jaw was on the floor with thoughts of “how the hell are they doing this” whizzing through my mind.  Weightless scenes in Apollo 13 was famously filmed in a mock up of the command module inside the “vomit comet”:  a plane executing a parabolic trajectory to simulate zero G.  As such, all of the weightless scenes are 15 seconds long or less.  There is no such limitation in Gravity.   For all I know Cuarón really did take his cast up there and filmed it for real… was Richard Branson an executive producer?

Also notable is the soundtrack and the sound design in general.  This is at times a very QUIET film, and for that reason alone the sale of popcorn and Chinese Crackers should be banned for this flick.  The quietness is nicely punctuated by incredibly loud music insertions (music by Steven Price, normally a music editor on lots of films, including Lord of the Rings).  Effectively done I thought.

Most of the plot is nicely executed, particularly the scene where George Clooney is miraculously rescued from certain doom.  And there is a ‘make you jump’ scene which is as effective as dear old Ben Gardner’s head in the boat in Jaws.   Sandra Bullock is a bit of an acquired taste though.  True, she nicely reenacts a ‘Sigourney Weaver getting out of a spacesuit in Alien’ scene, and she certainly has worked hard on her body (note in the credits, not just one “personal trainer” but TWO!).  But some of her dialogue is a bit cloying, especially a bit about “shoes under the bed”:  I for one found her a bit gratingly “American” by the end of the film.  She will probably be nominated for Best Actress though, whatever I think.

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There are also a number of scientific anomalies.  Granted that they recognise that sound doesn’t propagate through space, so the only sound you hear is that heard ‘through’ air-connected objects (which is nice – no ‘Star Wars’ space explosions), but surely if a human body is exposed to deep space, it would just explode from the gas contained within it (as nicely depicted in Sean Connery’s excellent Outland many years ago)?   That notably doesn’t happen with the doomed crew of the stricken shuttle.   And the ending of the film, trajectory-wise, whilst mathematically POSSIBLE is extremely unlikely.

All in all, this is a highly recommended film – an engrossing watch and (with Captain Phillips) one of the notable “must sees” in the run up to the 2014 Oscars.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.