Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

Warning: The following contains spoilers.

Once again, the BBC have graced us with the opportunity to see Doctor Who on the big screen. Last time, it was all chins, old faces and Zygons for the show’s 50th anniversary and now it’s regenerations, steampunk and dinosaurs in this, the series 8 opening.

Bursting onto our screens literally like a belch from a T-Rex, Deep Breath hit the ground running acting as a reboot, relaunch and continuation all in one feature length portion. The Doctor may look older, but the show appears to have undergone a bit of a renaissance.

After the baddy stuffed, exposition overload that was last year’s Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffat has wiped the table clean of all his timey wimey, Silence Will FALL, ‘I can’t go back for Amy. No, really I can’t. I’m not listening, lalalala.’ bag of tricks, to focus on a lean plot that still manages to sow the seeds for future plot lines in a manner reminiscent of the Davies era. Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) took over directing duties in this season opener, which certainly gave the whole bit of oomph; a meaningless word and one which doesn’t do his work justice, but it’s done now. There were some glorious set pieces, from a T-Rex on fire, Peter Capaldi riding a horse through London in his jim-jams and, let us not forget, the spine-tingling and tense scene of Clara holding her breath. It’s great to see Doctor Who experimenting with people at the helm, and it’ll be fascinating to see what Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) does with her pieces later this year.

Having been painted into a corner (in the nicest possible way) last season, Jenna Coleman has had her role beefed up. Not that the Impossible Girl wasn’t beefy last year. She was just more beef flavoured. Oxo cubes; the role was the equivalent Oxo cubes. Yes, let’s stick with that.

This time around, relating it back to the Davies era, here was a companion ready to think on her feet and fend for herself. Admittedly, the opportunity arose because she was left with her backside in the breeze by a still-percolating Doctor. ‘We can’t risk both getting caught.’ The Doctor said, skirting ever so close to his time during the Twin Dilemma.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi looks set to be one of the more iconic interpretations. He was rude, impertinent, insulting, confused, loving, unable to do hugs and prone to throwing people onto church steeples (or did he?). In short: brilliant. If his previous incarnation could be seen as a midlife crisis wrapped in a new face and tweed, then here was a teenager in middle age clothing. Sensing that an old Doctor might put off the kids – sorry folks, we need to remember, this show is always about the kids first and foremost – time was taken to ease the nippers into this new fierce face. All of which was topped off by a cameo by Matt Smith lovingly telling Clara (ie us) that he is he, and he is he and we are altogether.

Let’s not forget the return of the Paternoster Gang, clockwork baddies and new potential baddy, Missy played by the always brilliant Michelle Gomez. Deep Breath was bursting with fun. Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum can be kept up. Here’s hoping.

Deep breath everyone.

Sherlock – Case of Evil (2002)

With CBS’ Elementary, BBC’s Sherlock and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, it’s apparent we’re quite spoilt for interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth. Sherlock – Case of Evil arose a few years before any of the aforementioned were even a glimmer in Tumblr’s eye, and it could, if one was feeling fair, be said that it paved the way them. Well, it could if you chose to ignore the glorious films that came before it and, this is the important bit, believed that Case of Evil was actually any good.

Acting as a sort of Holmes Begins, we meet the young detective (James D’Arcy) dining out on the fame brought to him by killing the nefarious Professor Moriarty (Vincent D’Onofrio). Holmes is young and dashing. Not that he’s without sin. Namely, alcohol and threesomes with rosy cheeked wenches. Yes, indeedy, this is a sexy Holmes. A Holmes full of hope. He skips into the mortuary of Dr John Watson (Roger Morlidge) and the two become wrapped up in a mystery that suggests that Moriarty is still alive and basically being a cad and a shit.

As Case of Evil judders forward, it becomes apparent that the film is less concerned with Holmes tracking down Moriarity and more with providing a revisionist’s idea of how Holmes became the man we know him to be. A bit like Young Sherlock Holmes, but with more blood and breasts. What it really comes across as is a lightweight romp across the cobbles with numerous hideous Holmes references crowbarred in. It crams them in like battery hens. It’s as if there was a checklist of things they wanted to include. Drug addiction – this is how it happened. Mistrust of women – this is how it happened. By the time, Holmes is unceremoniously given his pipe and deerstalker, the game of interest is no longer afoot and well and truly over. There’s something rather insulting about believing that one whole adventure can provide all the intricacies one human can have.Trying to do its own things whilst adhering to the canon of Doyle is probably where it really lets itself down. In for a penny, in for a pound should have been their war cry. After all, it’s didn’t hurt the Asylum’s Sherlock Holmes which turned out to be lots of fun.

There’s also an embarrassing number of jokes in Case of Evil that we’re now referring to as Hindsight Jokes. You know the kind; someone in Mad Men will make a comment about one day being able to take your phone everywhere to which we are all supposed to stroke our chins and think, ‘Ha! He’s predicted mobile phones! Hahaha! I’ve forgotten about my parents’ divorce.’ Well, Case of Evil is chock full of them. Really bad ones. Ones that make you wish your head was made of glass so you could smash it. ‘Step into the 19th century!’ sneers Moriarty when presented with a Sherlock Holmes ready to swordfight.

All in all, we’re not sure if the world is crying out for a gritty, sexy version of Sherlock Holmes. If it is, then this is not it.

The Sweeney (2013)

Facking hell, it’s the rozzers. C’mon bruv I can hear the sirens coming. Apples and pears. Lawks a lordy. Etcetera, et-bloody-cetera.

Based on the popular 70s TV show of yesteryear, everyone’s favourite cockney Nick Love brings The Sweeney bang up to date. And by up to date, we mean mid to late 90s, when Loaded was a well-thumbed periodical and you were as hard the man you punched. This is the kind of film Tony and Gary would watch in Men Behaving Badly as a parody of the bullshit lad culture that permeated all those years ago.

If Danny Dyer and Vinnie Jones had a baby and then raised it in Wormwood Scrubs, it would grow up to write this script on the back of a fag packet. Probably whilst ‘shagging a bird’ or quoting lines from The Football Factory. Starting off with a conversation about how fit someone’s bride-to-be is, this utter dribble of a movie plods from one cop cliché to another without a hint of irony; barely bothering to pick itself up from the drunken-blue-balled-on-all-fours-crawl-from-the-pub pace its put itself on.

Ray Winston growls in his pants, Plan B doesn’t sing, Steven Mackintosh’s DCI is the baddy because Winstone is poking his wife and he doesn’t like corrupt cops. Or something. In fact, who cares. It’s all so tiresome. We actually miss the aforementioned Dyer, that’s how much he would have improved this film.

Mystery Road (2013)

Mystery Road has the potential to be the most brightly lit noir we’ve ever seen.

Set in rural Queensland, Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson), a detective of Australian Aboriginal descent, is called up to investigate the murder of young girl. As Swan submerges himself into the investigation, he finds suspects in the townsfolk, the local police force and even his own family.

Mystery Road is a mutli-layered film. As well as the investigation, Swan experiences a community’s apathy towards a dead black girl and its begrudging acceptance of someone of colour having some sort of wealth and authority. There are problems closer to home as Swan struggles to rekindle the relationship with his daughter. There’s also the matter of Swan’s colleague Johnno, played by a highly strung Hugo Weaving, who has a tenacity to piss on Swan’s fire seemingly every chance he gets. All of this simmers together nicely and produces a thoroughly engaging narrative.

Taking on the duties of writer, producer, cinematography, editing and music, it’s a wonder Ivan Sen had time to actually direct Mystery Road, but by Christ he does. This is the kind of backdrop pornography most travel commercials can only dream of. The bold, all-encompassing outback contrasting rather nicely with the intimacy of the performances on display.

Not everything will get resolved in Mystery Road, but that doesn’t seem to be the point. Like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, the characters’ interaction comes before the mystery. This is all pretty easy to accept in some cases. We never get a full history of everyone Swan meets, but we’re not supposed to. We’re tagging along in his reality. And just like life, no one ever talks in exposition. The brief snatches of conversation are all we’re given to build pictures and it’s all we’re ever going to get.

That’s fine.


Sen seems to deliberately drop things into the mix that have no place in the film except to confuse. Maybe Sen was just a little too close to the movie whilst making it, allowing him to see the cohesion that others can’t. Throughout the film there are whispers of wild dogs, who are rarely seen but seemingly seem to serve the purpose of being a clue. Sen also seems to frame a lot of conversations around really audible eating. Really audible. Slurp, smack, slurp, exposition, slurp, smack, burp. It can be distracting and seems to serve no purpose.

Annoying as they may be, and they really are, Mystery Road is still an astonishingly good piece of work. Flitting from noir to western to police procedural, this film deserves more recognition outside of Australia.

World War Z (2013)

Okay. We think everyone was ready to lynch World War Z weren’t they? It’s the joy and wonder of this brave new world of social media. When something or someone gets a kicking by the media, we all scrabble over to get the boot in. In World War Z’s case, the film, produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company, has been getting a merry pasting with a belt buckle for 6 years. The press has constantly reported on the troubled shoot, which involved recasting, reshoots and rewriting. As critic Giles Hardie pointed out, this is the film where they literally had to edit out countries to get it to the finish line.

So what are we left with?

Brad Pit is Gerry Lane; full time house husband and retired UN trouble-shooter. When he and his family find their school run interrupted by a pack of screaming, violent Philadelphians, they are taken in by the Deputy Secretary-General (Fana Mokoena), who explains that the world is under some sort of viral attack.  Before anyone has a chance to come to terms with this, Gerry is packed off to discover the source of the virus.

If you’re a massive fan of the book on which it’s based, there is the potential for the film to disappoint. World War Z takes the brooding, slow boiling political allegory of its source, gives it a few cardio lessons, wipes the grave dirt off its face and sends it on its way. As such, it’s more of a spiritual successor to 28 Days Later with a detective story, than it is a true zombie film. In fact, like Shaun of the Dead, when the z-word is first mentioned, it’s immediately derided and never discussed again. However, without making the book into a mini-series, Gerry’s globetrotting paper chase seems to be the most logical to push the narrative forward.

Marc Forster, who is well known for pretty much not doing these kind of films, has been given the thankless task of helming the constantly shifting narration that changed with each draft of screenplay. It’s either down to him or the editors, but World War Z is very much like a patchwork quilt. There are lots of little storylines stitched together, but a lot of them could have easily been forgotten. And in some cases, the film does it for us by either dropping characters or resolving their arc in the most unsatisfactory way possible! This is really apparent with Mirellie Enos, who must have signed on to the film to do more than hang onto a walkie talkie and pine after Brad her onscreen husband. Meanwhile, Elyes Gabel’s virologist feels like a leftover from the first draft and treated as such.

There’s also the issue of the ‘zombies’ themselves. If you believe zombies don’t run, then this film is not for you. World War Z has them running, jumping, spitting and at one point, clucking. If you do venture in, just keep repeating to yourself ‘It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie.’ Because, despite all that’s wrong with World War Z, there is so much right with it as well.

There are some great flourishes of innovation that really do help it stand on its own. Gerry uses the most unlikely of items to measure how long zombification occurs. Believing they may be infected, a character contemplates suicide. Then there’s that finale… There will be those who know the original filmed ending to World War Z and trust us, they made the right choice in dispensing with it. Despite his previous vocation, Gerry is still the everyday family man, so it is tonally and narratively right to go the way they do. Subtle and a stark contrast to the finales found in summer blockbusters, it’s a satisfying pay off.

World War Z may not be a classic of the zombie genre, but its strengths outweigh its weaknesses enough to make it a pleasing piece of escapist cinema.

Trance (2013)

After becoming the Nation’s favourite after directing the Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle returns to the big screen with British psychological thriller, Trance. James McAvoy plays Simon, a fine art auctioneer who falls into the hands of French gangster, Franck (Vincent Cassel). Helping Franck steal a piece of fine art, Simon ends up cracking his head open and forgetting where he left the painting. Silly Billy. To help spur his memory on, Franck books Simon a session with hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson).

What follows for the next 100 minutes, is a film that frustrates and fascinates in equal measure. There’s a real feel of Boyle’s earlier work at the beginning. An opening narration by McAvoy brings back fond memories of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, whilst Boyle’s direction reminds us of the kinetic energy of Slumdog Millionaire.

The performances are all perfectly fine, with McAvoy playing Simon as man who is clearly in over his head; scared, alone and just really wanting to have a lie down. Dawson mixes up the sultry with the professional in a manner that makes us wish she had Catherine Zeta Jones part in Side Effects. Cassell is dependable as the most patient, angry gangster in the world.

And that last line hints at one of the issues we have with Trance. The script by Joe Ahearne (This Life and Ultraviolet) and John Hodge (Shallow Grave and The Final Curtain, to name but two) asks the audience to make leaps of logic in the run up to the dénouement. Returning to our original example, would a criminal, who has already been shown to be quite violent, really stay this calm for this long? Surely McAvoy would be wearing his testicles as earrings by now!

When the ending does arrive, you will either punch the air or a cat. It asks an awful lot of you, and whilst we were willing to suspend our disbelief for Side Effects, it took a hell of a lot more than a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down.

Trance does not have the strongest story and it’s as sexual as an episode of the Red Show Diaries, but Danny Boyle’s direction ensures that you won’t question any of this until you leave the cinema. What you make of it then is up to you.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

There have been a lot of reviews that have jumped on the bandwagon of comparing David Fincher’s latest with the Swedish original. Completely natural, but after a while it just turns into a pointless ‘who would win in a fight? Superman or Godzilla?’ argument. Director of the 2009 version, Niels Arden Oplev, asked why anyone would see Fincher’s when they could see the original. Somehow suggesting his is the superior version. We would like to retort with why should you see either when you could read the book? It’s called choice, Oplev.

Anyway, with all that in mind, EBFS is going to stick its fingers in its ears, go lalalalalala and pretend there hasn’t already been an attempt to bring Steig Larsson’s novel, Men Who Hate Women, to life. Okay? We’re all agreed? Let’s move on then.

Disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkist (Daniel Craig) is hired by retired CEO Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his grand-daughter 40 years previously, believing her to have been murdered by one of her own family. During his investigation, Blomkist hires Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara); a researcher for a security firm and ward to the state. As the two grow closer to the truth, they grow closer to each other. And that’s the potted version.

With a plot encompassing rape, revenge and Nazis, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a dense film based on a dense book. In a similar fashion to LA Confidential, Steven Zaillian shaves off a number of characters superfluous to the main plot; keeping it lean, mean and vicious. Like Lisbeth Salander herself. The credit sequence itself is a primal scream, reminiscent of Fincher’s Fight Club, encouraging, nay, demanding you pay attention (see above). The film simmers, never rushing to conclusions. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ script throbs at the back of your head, almost penetrating your brain during the scenes of violence.

Both the leads stand out for very different reasons. Mara is superb as Salander; playing her equal parts violent school child and intelligent sociopath. If there was someone else who had played this part before her, and EBFS is still refusing to acknowledge there is another film during this review, then Mara certainly holds her ground in comparison. She’s subtle; her blank expressions showing so much of the character within. Not bad for a girl from Urban Legends 3. Craig stands out because he’s the only one NOT putting on a Swedish accent. We can only assume he kept impersonating the Swedish Chef before Fincher gave in and let him do his own thing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a brutal film that stays faithful to the original. If you’ve already decided not to see it because of some allegiance to another version that may or may not exist, you owe it yourself to make the effort to this. As Salander said, there will be blood.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Guy Ritchie’s original movie, Sherlock Holmes, was greeted by many a bemused person who felt that he had lynched the good name of Arthur Conan Doyle by giving us a bohemian Holmes who was an ace shot, a crack swordsman and a bare-knuckle fighter. These same people having based their opinion of Holmes solely on Basil Rathbone movies. However, it was successful  and deliberately left itself open to a sequel. Here is that sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jnr) is spending an inordinate amount of time trying to track down evidence that can lead to the arrest and capture of Professor Moriarty, lecturer, author and criminal mastermind. Upon meeting a fortune teller named Simzi (Noomi Rapace), Holmes begins a case that could lead not only to Moriarty, but also to saving civilisation as we know it. Not bad for a man who has taken to drinking formaldehyde.

Seemingly learning from criticisms of the last installment, Game of Shadows dispenses with the overly-complicated plot and, taking it’s cues from The Final Problem, becomes a merry chase across Europe.  Whilst I’m a big fan of the original, I was pleased to see the plot simplified as the original does fall down like a game of ker-plunk if you analyse it too closely. The sequel is not without it’s fault, an attempt to cover up a murder is is presented as ingenious, when in actual fact it seems like a colossal waste of manpower.

Downey Jnr and Jude Law, as Dr Watson, bounce off each other superbly, retaining the love/hate married couple relationship that made them a joy to watch before. Jared Hill is superb as Moriarty and, in comparison to Lord Blackwood from before, brings a believable villainy to role without having to chew the scenery. His dialogues with Holmes are excellent and you genuinely believe them to be two men who share awe and loathing of each other in equal measure. It’s a shame about Noomi Rapace then. Forever to be known as that woman from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/Played with Fire/Punched a Train, Rapace becomes nothing more than window dressing and, at best, the Holmes equivalent of a Doctor Who companion. ‘What’s this Holmes?’, ‘Why that Holmes?’, ‘Look it’s the Ice Warriors, Holmes!’ etc.

Some of Guy Ritchie’s direction does grate a little. There are so many Lock, Stock moments of quick cuts it can become a tad disorientating. His overusage of slooooooooooooowing thiiiiings dooooooown before speedingupreallyquickly does become a bit of a headache, but it’s nice to see a cheeky nod to the almost infallible Holmes-O-Vision we were introduced to in Sherlock Holmes.

After the swashbuckling finale of it’s predecessor, some fans maybe disappointed with the wordy way everything is resolved in Game of Shadows. The film quite literally waves an ending in your face, before changing gears suddenly. However, I found it to be more line in with the original stories than crossing swords on top of an incomplete Tower Bridge.

A Game of Shadows will most definitely split people down the middle. It is not a film to tax your braincells, but rather a ripping yarn. Which isn’t really all that different to Holmes canon in general if truth be told.